If you see smoke, don't look for forest fire

The weather is a bit warm for late April, but the smoke you may see wafting up from the local woods for the next few days likely will not be from a wildfire.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Medford District is conducting prescribed burns in the region to improve forest health and reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires come summer.

"We have a nice little weather window now to do some burning," said district spokesman Jim Whittington.

"If it gets much warmer, we would be out of prescription, but it is supposed to start cooling down for the next couple of days," he added. "I suspect we will be burning through Saturday, and maybe Sunday and Monday, depending on the weather."

The agency has burned some 400 acres in recent days in Jackson and Josephine counties, including 164 acres on Thursday.

That included 58 acres in the Butte Falls Resource Area near Cobleigh Road. The area is east of Shady Cove and off Butte Falls Highway.

In the Grants Pass Resource Area, crews have been burning 108 acres in the Reeves Creek drainage some three miles north of Kerby.

All told, the district plans to burn from 1,300 to 1,500 acres this spring, Whittington said.

"But whether we get the weather window to accomplish that is another story," he said, citing the whims of Mother Nature this time of year.

The goal of prescribed burning is to treat overgrown forests, the result of a century of fire suppression, to make them more fire resistant, officials said.

Prescribed burns are controlled fires that include either understory burning along the forest floor or burning piles of woody debris, brush and small saplings. Prescribed burns don't harm larger trees.

In addition to protecting natural resources, prescribed fires remove ladder fuels that could otherwise ignite the bigger trees during a summer fire, officials said.

Firefighting crews and equipment are on hand while the fires are burning.

However, prescribed burns occur only when weather conditions and fuel moisture content allow for safe operations. The ground must be wet, the humidity high and temperatures low.

The agency coordinates its prescribed burns with Oregon's Smoke Management Office, which determines when weather conditions are suitable for adequate smoke dispersal.

A list of planned burns is available at 541-618-2354 or 1-800-267-3126.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 541-776-4496 or pfattig@mailtribune.com.

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