Page A-10 Northcountry News
By Tiffany Benna, Public Affairs Officer for the White Mountain National Forest
Fire on the Forest
On April 4th, twelve White Mountain National Forest fire- fighters responded to the Breezy Point Wildfire located in Warren, NH. For the last several days, the weather was dry and with it, the leaves and brush and still dead grass and low vegeta- tion dried out with it. It was a Red Flag Warning day - mean- ing there was high fire danger and a potential for fires to grow and spread quickly. There were gusty winds and low humidity that day (more characteristics of a Red Flag day). The start of this fire was undetermined.
When people observe a fire, they often call their local Volunteer Fire Department first and that’s exactly what hap- pened in this case. Local volun- teer firefighters from Warren, Wentworth, Haverhill, Rumney, Campton/Thornton, Plymouth and Piermont, and 3 State of NH Rangers were first on the scene and did a lot of the work to put out the fire. The Forest Service was notified and firefighters sent to the scene. Warren Fire Chief Riel transferred fire lead to Forest Service lead firefighter (Incident Commander) John Neely around 1:00 pm. Within hours, the fire was declared completely contained at about 10 acres; however, there still remained burning crowns with- in the blackened area. Calls came in as people could see the embers ambers glowing in the wind. Concerned about these embers crossing containment lines and starting adjacent trees and lands on fire, the Incident Commander, John Neely, decid-
ed to take the torched trunks down. Experienced sawyer, Ian Halm felled several of the burnt out sugar maples along the edge of the road.
It’s not a light decision. Neely radioed the Pemigewasset Ranger District and Fire Management Officer and assessed the safety of the opera- tion. In the end, Neely called in the power company for one par- ticularly tricky tree due to the close proximity of power lines and the potential to cause a safe- ty hazard to the public.
I was talking to the Forest Fire Management Officer (FMO), Chase Marshall, about the fire and the area. Ten acres in New England, and particularly on this Forest is a decent sized fire. (Last year about 2.2 acres burned all season.) He com- mented on how dry it was, and the Red Flag condition. Then he talked about past management of the area. “We prescribed burned that area in 2009 and mowed it last year.” Marshall shakes his head, “Can you imagine if we hadn’t treated that fuel?”
Sometimes, people wonder why the Forest Service is managing the Forest with prescribed fire. While New England is not a fire-driven ecosystem, fire is a part of the ecology and the land- scape history. Over a hundred years ago, after the logging companies and cut over the for- est, huge fires raged across the landscape. In fact, the second part of the Weeks Act was all about funding the response to wildfire. Fire towers, erected to detect those first sparks and smokes still remain around the North Country today.
We use prescribed fire for sever-
April 27, 2012 Fire On The Forest: Breezy Point, Warren, NH_______________
al reasons. We use it as a man- agement tool to maintain wildlife openings in the forest. Wildlife openings provide grassy or shrubby areas essen- tial for some forest dwellers. These openings add diversity and complexity of habitat to the national forest.
Prescribed fire is used to achieve specific silvicultural objectives. These burns are tied to harvest units and usually cen- ter around creating conditions to promote regeneration of partic- ular species over others. Fire creates conditions that less com- mon species, like oaks, pines, paper birch and aspen prefer. These burns are usually planned post-harvest and timed to seed releases.
We also use fires for ecosystem restoration. While the White Mountain National Forest is at the northern range of most fire adapted habitats, small but important components of fire adapted habitats do exist. Pitch pine, scrub oak, read oak and red pine and jack pine are all species found on the Forest that require periodic disturbance to maintain their position in the larger spruce/fir and northern hardwood matrix. Blueberry, huckleberry, and uncommon species of grasses and sedges are also components of these systems. These areas respond well to natural and human caused fires. Some of these habitats are undoubtedly influ- enced by years of human caused fires – both intentional and unintentional. Again, using fire in these areas promotes a diver- sity of species across the Forest.
Finally (as we’ve recently seen), Spring and Fall fire danger can be extreme. As the number of homes and subdivisions increas-
VOLKL • SALOMON • ATOMIC • DYNASTAR • ELAN • HEAD • OAKLEY
US Forest Service firefighters at the recent Breezy Point Fire make sure the roots in a stump hole are not still hot and burn- ing. Hot roots have the potential to re-ignite. - Photo: US Forest Service, White Mountain National Forest
es along the border of the White Mountain National Forest, the need for fuels management also increases. The Forest uses fire and mechanical treatments in and around houses and commu- nities where the fuel types indi- cate a potential for rapid fire spread. By proactively manag- ing these fuels the potential impacts of a wildfire are reduced.
“So here is something interest- ing,” says Marshall after run- ning a fire prediction model in the same area as the Breezy Point Wildfire. (Remember his question?) Marshall took out the influence of the past prescribed burn and mowing treatments, and let the area’s fuels “grow up” over the last few years. “It’s
amazing. The Breezy Point fire would have had the potential to triple in size and double in intensity under the observed Red Flag conditions experi- enced that day. He shakes his head again, “Our prescribed burns and other treatments can really make a difference to com- munities.”
So the take away? You might see some smoke from the road or on your hike this spring (or again in the fall). Conditions have to be just right to burn – temperature, wind, humidity. It’s not an easy decision. Windows are sometimes tight and short. We have site specific burn plans for each area that describes the exact parameters
Story continues on page A13
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