Watershed prescribed fire goes well

May 23, 2001 11:00 pm

By JAYSON JACOBY

Of the Baker City Herald

The arrival of August-like weather in May assisted the U.S. Forest Service in finishing a 200-acre prescribed fire Wednesday in the Baker City watershed.

I think it went really well, said Barry Hansen of the Forest Services Burnt-Powder Fire Zone. Im glad we got it done.

Residents should expect to see smoke hovering over the area west of Baker City for the next few days, Hansen said.

But he said there will be less residual smoke than he expected, because Wednesdays blaze burned more completely than fire officials thought it would.

The Forest Service had expected to burn about 150 acres Wednesday.

The prescribed burn achieved the Forest Services goal of reducing the amount of dead wood left on the ground in an area that was logged by helicopter last summer, Hansen said.

That material, if left to cure, could fuel a wildfire that might devastate the streams that supply the majority of Baker Citys drinking water.

Although Hansen acknowledged that some people might have questioned the Forest Services judgment in lighting a fire on the hottest day of 2001, he said conditions on the nearly 7,000-foot-high ridge were well-suited for the blaze.

Temperatures there hit the upper 70s, with humidities in the low 20s, Hansen said.

He said Forest Service officials were confident in their ability to control the blaze, in part because there are still drifts of snow on the north side of the ridge.

Hansen said he was pleased to learn that several people called the Forest Services fire dispatch center to report the blaze.

An observer with keen eyes may detect a fire in time to prevent it from becoming a catastrophe.

People are definitely paying attention, and I have no problem with that, Hansen said.

Although fire officials praised Wednesdays hot, dry weather, theyre likely to have a considerably different opinion of 90-degree days later this summer.

Drought has left forests across Oregon vulnerable to lightning, which sparks about 80 percent of the blazes on the Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.

Hansen said there were a few lightning-caused fires in Central Oregon Wednesday, an almost unheard of event so early in the year.