Sunday smoke was on purpose

I was out and about Sunday when I saw a large cloud of smoke rising somewhere near Evans Valley. Can you tell me what happened?

— Stan K., via e-mail

You weren't the only one to see smoke billowing up the other day. But unlike most of the fires you see, this one was carefully staged and managed, according to our sources.

While fire season still lingers with temperatures peaking above 90 degrees, the agencies in charge of managing state and federal timberland consider this a prime time to ignite what they call prescribed burns. The weekend burn covered a 40-acre area on Bureau of Land Management territory.

"This is the tail end of fire season," said Brian Ballou, a fire prevention specialist with the Oregon Department of Forestry. This is when you usually start seeing prescribed (burns) in higher elevation forest land, in areas where burning needs to be finished before winter sets in. Since there is little in the way of timber harvesting these days, the majority of burns are from fuel reduction projects."

Most of the burns are in 20- to 40-acre blocks, Ballou said. "That puts up a pretty good column of smoke."

He said ODF has responsibility for air quality prescriptions on such burns.

"We won't go into an air quality management area," Ballou said. "Most of the burns are taking place on BLM lands right now. There are a lot of areas where they have done fuel reduction projects and they are burning piles or a landscape area."

He wasn't sure how many prescribed burns were scheduled this year.

Ballou said hauling slash and wood piles from the forest to a biomass lot doesn't pencil out.

"The cost of moving the material, largely by hand, to trucks and then transport won't work," he said. "There is not a market that would bear the cost of doing that."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by e-mail to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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