‘Good start to winter’ for next fire season, water supply – Medford News, Weather, Sports, Breaking News


A controlled burn tears the undergrowth south of Hyatt Lake. Mail Tribune / Photo File

ASHLAND – A combination of heavy snowfall and vigilant forest management could be good news for the upcoming Rogue Valley fire season.

Ashland Forest Resilience Stewardship Project teams entered the fall with about 1,300 acres of pile burning to complete before the fire season – now down to 553 after a season of burning. Fall “successful,” said Chris Chambers, Ashland Fire & Wildfire Rescue Division chief.

A wet October has lessened the impact on drought-stressed trees, and a thick snowpack will only help, he said. Mount Ashland reported 98 inches of snowfall so far this season on Wednesday.

“We haven’t had a good start to winter like this in a long time,” Chambers said.

Fire seasons progress in part depending on how quickly various elevations dry up in spring and early summer – without a healthy snowpack higher up, elevations tend to dry up almost simultaneously from low to low. high, he said.

A thick spring snowpack could prevent another early fire season. If the snow persists, the community’s water supply benefits from a snowpack that lasts until August and September by decreasing the dependence on the Talent-Ashland-Phoenix interconnection and the Talent Irrigation District, did he declare.

“It just takes some of the landscape off the table for a while, and the trees will retain that moisture during the snowmelt during the summer months,” Chambers said. “If we continue with this rate of accumulation, this is what we can expect: a later fire season, especially at higher elevations.

Staff from Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest, Lomakatsi Restoration Project, and Grayback Forestry have cleared approximately 800 fuel cells in an all-land approach since October.

For pile burning, crews collect cut brush, dead material and small trees in piles, then wait until there is enough moisture and cool weather to burn them to prevent the fire from spreading. .

“Once we have gone through this whole cycle of cutting brush and trees, burning the burn piles, we go back to restore the role of the frequent natural fires, which were part of our forests for thousands and thousands of years. ‘years, ”Chambers said, explaining the purpose of the underburning.

“Putting that frequent, low-intensity fire role back into our ecosystem is a really important part of what we do. This is the final phase of all our work in the AFR project and will continue in perpetuity.

Indigenous tribes in the area have used fire as a management tool for millennia, and by analyzing fire scars on older trees, the historically frequent role of fire is evident, Chambers said. Natural fires have been suppressed for 150 years, resulting in overly dense forests and “unusually severe” forest fires during the summer months, he said.

In 2021, Lomakatsi and partners completed approximately 2,260 acres of prescribed burn treatments on federal and private lands, including 470 acres of underburning and 1,480 acres of burns across the AFR in the Ashland watershed. and neighboring private lands, according to a Lomakatsi Facebook post on Monday.

Lomakatsi also used prescribed burn in Green Springs west of Ashland, Chiloquin Trust Lands, Colestin Valley and Scott River Watershed in Northern California, working with federal, tribal and local partners.

Opportunities to underburn in the fall are generally rare as certain conditions must line up – a narrow window that is not too wet, dry or hot, to avoid negative impacts on the forest, Chambers said. Smoke management also plays a role, he said, as fall days rarely encourage smoke to rise and move away from the city.

The AFR Project completed the 55-acre underground burn this fall, managed by burn officials from the US Forest Service. Last spring was the best undergrowth season, with just over 400 acres completed, he said.

Forest managers want to see fire return to treated areas once every ten years, Chambers said. To stay on target with a natural “fire return interval” on the 13,000 acres AFR has worked on, crews must perform over 1,000 acres of underburn each year.

“We still need to do at least twice as much underburning as ever, just to stay on top of fuel buildup and landscape regrowth,” Chambers said. “The more we do, the better equipped we will be in each fire season to protect our homes, community and infrastructure, as well as the fires that interact in the Ashland watershed more productively.”

Recent research into the behavior of fire in the summer when it encounters fuel treatments shows that, even in the face of extreme fires, treatments make a difference in protecting communities and reducing adverse impacts on ecosystems and land. wildlife habitat, he said.

Chambers pointed out that staff at the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest are constantly monitoring conditions in the watershed and have identified the ideal window for the under-burn this fall, allowing crews to get to work safely. . Spring underburning usually begins in late April.

The remaining 553 fuel cells will be burned once road access improves and the snow melts from the piles, Chambers said. Depending on weather conditions, crews may resume stack burning around March or April, unless earlier melting and drying allows for a faster start. After the snow melts, the batteries take about a week to dry enough to burn, he said.

“The batteries have a little liner built in to keep the battery core dry to make them burn more efficiently and have fewer emissions – even with that, they could be totally submerged in snow,” Chambers said. “We only need six inches or less of snow on each stack to be able to light them and actually use the fuel we’re trying to get rid of. “

In the fall, crews mostly burned batteries at high altitudes in the watershed, he said. About 200 acres of low lying piles closer to town have yet to be burned. Heavy November fog dampened the batteries too much to burn.

Around March, if necessary, managers will assess the value of plowing to access some exposed piles in the middle of the watershed, which may contain snow until May, Chambers said.


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