A common question is asked of wildland firefighters: “what do you do during the ‘off-season’?”. After months of physical training, preparing equipment/supplies and being available to respond on a moment’s notice, when October came around everyone knew it wasn’t quite time to rest for the winter’s off-season. UWC fire personnel went directly from suppressing fires to igniting prescribed fires, thereby completing numerous projects all over the forest.
Hazardous fuel and wildfire risk reduction is a major focus for the UWC and over the past several years, the forest has quadrupled the number of projects being completed. Historically, it was around 300 acres treated per year, but now are averaging 1,000-2,000 acres per year. These projects are often accomplished through several phases requiring years to implement. Many projects include a prescribed fire phase to dispose of the biomass. The prescription in the burn plan is specific for precise conditions regarding vegetation, weather, and smoke management. These periods of ideal moisture level in the biomass coupled with the desirable weather and smoke clearance are referred to as a “burning window”. In some years, burning windows have been few and far between. And sometimes, when a burning window does exist, there are other barriers to completing prescribed fire like having enough qualified personnel or snow on roads preventing access.
This year, district personnel came together to remove the workforce capacity limitation. Fire Management Officers worked to coordinate schedules to meet the burning windows and districts were helping other districts, even from the other side of the forest(which can include several hours of drive time or even overnight stays).Mike Krupski, acting Fire Staff Officer, says that “the hazardous fuel reduction projects are addressing a forest-wide problem, so it’s great having all hands-on deck from the various district offices supporting each other in accomplishing roughly 3,330 acres,45,220 piles, andburning 46 times of the past 60 days.”