Fire will purposely be set to two areas in the Uinta National Forest later this summer.
Forest officials hope the controlled burns will prevent a large-scale fire in the future. But the blazes may come at a cost.Utah County residents - as well as those in Heber City and as far south as Price - will definitely smell and breathe the effects from the two blazes. Smoke from the fires is expected to be seen as far north as Salt Lake City.
The elk hunting season could be affected by the fires, too.
However, Bruce Giunta, regional wildlife manager with the Division of Wildlife Resources, anticipates the fires won't have a big impact on hunters because the areas of the controlled burns are not particularly large.
But should the hunting be affected, the burns will provide a larger, healthier elk population in the future, said Loyal Clark, forest public affairs officer.
The first fire will be set to an 800-acre area in the Spanish Fork Ranger District, called Pole Haven. It is in the Left Fork of Hobble Creek drainage above Spring-ville and Mapleton.
Clark said there is so much debris of dead leaves and trees in the area that new shoots cannot grow.
"It's infested with bugs and is in an explosive fuel condition," said Brett Ruby, Uinta National Forest fire management officer.
The purpose of the fire is to restore natural diversity to Pole Haven and reduce the risk of a large uncontrollable fire.
Fire officials will use a helitorch hanging from a helicopter and a drip torch to ignite the Pole Haven area. The helitorch will drop a lot of fire on the ground rapidly and can be controlled by how fast and at what altitude the pilot flies, Ruby said.
Two or three fire engines, a 20-person fire crew and a helicopter that can "stop, drop and fire or stop, drop and water" will be on hand, he said. "We'll have people up there until there is no longer a threat."
Roads accessing this area will be closed during the burn. Residents can also expect heavy smoke for one to three nights. "There is no way to control the smoke," Clark said.
While the Pole Haven controlled burn will last just one day, or possibly two, the second prescribed fire at White River could last for four days.
White River is in the Spanish Fork Ranger District, 44 miles southeast of Spanish Fork, and covers 34,400 acres. Two to four thousand of those acres will be burned by the helitorch method, Ruby said.
The burn this summer will be the first of five burns in the area off of U.S. 6.
Smoke from the White River burn will be seen in Price, Duchesne, Camelot, Scofield and the Strawberry Reservoir.
The Right Fork of White River and Reservation Ridge roads will be closed during the burning.
Both areas will be burned in a mosaic pattern, destroying patches of vegetation while leaving others alone. That method will create a diversity in the ages of vegetation, which will stimulate future growth, Ruby said.
Exactly when the two fires will be set has yet to be determined because of a combination of weather, available fuel and terrain conditions, Ruby said. He expects the Pole Haven fire will be set around Sept. 1 and the White River blaze sometime near the middle of September.
" . . . Prescribed burning and its tradeoffs will remain necessary if we, as a society, are to sustain the values, products, and experiences we desire and expect from our public land," according to a pamphlet from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The cost to suppress a wildfire is usually $400-$500 an acre; however, a prescribed burn costs $40 or less an acre, Ruby said. Each burn is expected to cost between $30,000 and $34,000.
Funds for the burns are not solely coming from the Uinta National Forest. The Pole Haven burn will be funded in part by the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, the Wild Turkey Foundation and the Division of Wildlife Resources.
For more information on the controlled burns, call the Uinta National Forest at 377-5780 or the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources at 636-0266 in Price or 489-5678 in Springville.
Prescribed fires: - reduce the accumulation
- reduce the accumulation of combustible materials.
- recycle forest nutrients.
- minimize insect populations and spread of disease.
- encourage and maintain the growth of native trees and plants.
- provide better access and conditions for wildlife.
- meet specific management objectives - such as reducing wildfire potential and enhancing vegetation.
- occur only when optimum temperature, humidity, wind speed and fuel moisture content occur - ensuring that the fire remains inside designated boundaries and accomplishes objectives.
- are guided by smoke management plans to minimize smoke's impact on populated areas.
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture.