Mark Wetzel, Deseret News
BEAVER — Firefighters are planning a massive, 10,000-acre controlled burn next month south of Beaver in hopes of reducing the risk of an out-of-control wildfire in the area.
The juniper and pinion-packed Greenville Bench area about 6 miles outside Beaver is the nursery for what firefighters say could be a catastrophic wildfire.
“The way we see it, if we reset this on our terms, it’ll be much less devastating than on nature’s terms,” said Nick Howell of the Bureau of Land Management. “It’s not uncommon to see 50- to 90-foot flame lengths in the trees here.”
Howell said a prescribed burn of this size has only been attempted once before in Utah on the neighboring ridgeline in 2009.
“Ten-thousand acres is really a significant sized project, especially when you’re dealing with a prescribed fire,” Howell said. “It’s a really risky business.”
A controlled burn is tricky because the weather has to be just right to allow firefighters to keep the blaze under control, he said. Additionally, helicopters drop a diesel gasoline gel, which Howell compared to napalm, to promote burning in the prescribed area.
Hundreds of firefighters are going to be on-site making sure the burn stays controlled.
Howell said preventative measures like a prescribed burn “really do keep the large wildfires from happening.”
Burning the vegetation reduces hazardous fuels to decrease the risk from wildfire to life, property and resources. It also helps return fire to its natural role in the landscape and maintain a diverse mosaic pattern of vegetation, increase herbaceous forage production for wildlife, and improve habitat, according to Forest Service officials.
Residents in the area aren’t sold on the benefits of a prescribed burn. They remember the 2009 burn as an ugly mess that went on far longer than it needed to.
“It was a little uncomfortable the last time with all the smoke,” said homeowner Lynn Cartwright. “It’s something you deal with — you have to — but I don’t see any reason for it.”
But firefighters also remember the Milford Flat Fire in 2007. It was the state's largest ever wildfire, and it burned more than 363,000 acres.
Howell said the BLM doesn't want to see the same scenario unfold in the overgrown brush on the Greenville Bench.
“This was one of our most fire-prone areas. And it’s definitely not as fire-prone as it was in the past because of previous treatments,” he said.
The prescribed burn on the Greenville Bench in May will be one of 16 planned burns in southern Utah in the coming months to help protect communities from the dry conditions that can create killer fires.
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