WILLIAMS, Ariz. - The Forest Service plans to start the first portion of about 13,000 acres of prescribed burning on the Williams Ranger District in the next three to four weeks.
Fire Information Officer Holly Krake gave a presentation about the fall 2013 prescribed fire plan during the Aug. 22 Williams City Council meeting. The plan calls for prescribed burning in 13 separate project areas totaling 13,156 acres.
"That is a maximum, the actual acres burned could be significantly less than that," Krake said.
The Forest Service uses prescribed burns to enhance public safety and improve forest health, which includes reducing ground fuels.
"One of the main things we find in prescribed fires was raising the crown height and eliminating some of those ladder fuels so that fire moving on the forest doesn't climb and then move through the tree independently," Krake said.
The Forest Service has prioritized the project areas based on factors such as location, explained Fire Management Officer James Pettit.
"We understand that smoke impacts folks, so what we try to do is change airsheds," he said. "So we've kind of set them up that way to kind of jump in and jump out to try to give folks a break from some of that smoke."
One of the unique aspects about this prescribed fire plan is the potential to burn two nearby areas at once: the City Southeast area (1,142 acres about four miles southeast of Williams along County Road 73) and McCracken East (2,118 acres about five miles southeast of Williams on the east side of County Road 73).
"It's a little bit easier to come in and do an aerial ignition and light those blocks off and get that smoke in and out of here in two to three days of time instead of piecing that out 200 acres at a time," Pettit said.
The Forest Service works with the National Weather Service and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality to determine the optimal times for a prescribed burn. Crews implement prescribed fire when conditions such as temperature, wind, fuel moisture, ventilation and relative humidity are right.
Crews must wait for the rain to subside before they can start the prescribed fire.
"We've got to get some drying weather, some sunny days and a little bit of wind to dry those blocks out," Pettit said.People may see smoke, firefighter activity, vehicles and helicopters during the prescribed burns. Immediately after a prescribed fire, it is normal for the lower level pine needles of the trees to turn brown.
"Those brown needles will drop off," Krake said. "The trees are perfectly fine, we haven't killed them. It'll just raise the crown heights up."
The Forest Service will notify the public about prescribed burns through email news releases, Twitter, the Forest Service website and signage.
Krake also updated the council about the status of the Mud Fire, which is burning about 10 miles south of Williams and is about 308 acres in size. The lightning-caused fire started on July 29, and the Forest Service is managing it to protect cultural resources and wildlife habitat.
The fire is burning within a 7,700 acre planning area, which is the maximum size the fire could grow.
On Aug. 17 fire managers conducted 50 acres of managed ignitions along Forest Service Road 3209 in the Rocky Ridge area south of Summit Mountain to make sure the perimeter does not spread outside the planning area.
Recent precipitation has slowed the growth of the Mud Fire. The fire behavior is currently low intensity.
"So it's not growing any, it's just kind of smoldering internally," Krake said.
Fire managers are pleased with the results of the fire so far, including reduced fuel loads.
"Any time that we're able to reduce the ground fuels it reduces the risk of a catastrophic wildfire," Krake said.
Fire managers expect smoke impacts to be minimal.
More information about the Mud Fire or prescribed burns is available from Krake at (928) 635-5653.