Prescribed burnings in the South Hills aims to reduce wildfire risk

prescribed burning.jpg
Posted at 5:57 PM, Jan 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-21 12:24:41-05

HELENA — In the hills south of Helena, the United States Forest Service is working hard in order to reduce wildfire risks and keep the forest healthy.

During the summer months, crews work to take down smaller trees and other brush that could be fuel for wildfires. Then during the winter, fire teams from the Forest Service burn those same piles, later coming back to burn even more underbrush and small saplings.

Basically, what this is doing is mimicking the effects of a natural wildfire through a controlled fashion. In ponderosa pine forests, like the ones in the South Hills, historically, a natural low-intensity wildfire would burn through the area about every 3-5 years. However, allowing a nature wildfire to run its course in the area would be disastrous due to homes, the proximity to the town and it could impact the area's drinking water.

Through prescribed burning, the Forest Service is ridding the forest floor of excess fuel that, in the case of an actual wildfire. They are essentially fighting fire with fire, by mimicking natural wildfires.

“...and putting it into piles, burning those piles, and then we’ll be coming through afterwards with an understory low-intensity burn under the canopy to increase resilience for the ecosystem as well as protect our communities here of catastrophic wildfire,” says Kyle Miller, Assistant Fire Management Officer for the Fuels and Prescribed Fire Program.

This doesn’t guarantee that a wildfire couldn’t affect the South Hills, but it does lessen the chances of a large and destructive wildfire.

People can always check the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest Facebook page to see if it is indeed a prescribed burn they are conducting.

Prescribed burns in the South Hills will likely continue through Friday if current conditions hold.