U.S. Forest Service waits out weather for prescribed fires


BRATTLEBORO — The cold, wet weather is threatening the U.S. Forest Service's hopes of having prescribed fires in the region.

"The window of opportunity is pretty much between now and when things start to green up, really mid-May," said Ethan Ready, U.S. Forest Service Green Mountain & Finger Lakes National Forest public affairs officer, on Tuesday. "We'll have to see how the weather works out."

Prescribed fires are typically used as a management tool in the spring and in the fall, he said. But the ground needs to be dry enough.

The fires are started in places the forest service calls wildlife management areas to help restore declining wildlife habitat and improve watershed conditions. Areas planned for burning are currently overgrown with thick brush, according to a press release. Plants, which wildlife feeds on in those identified locations, are now coarse and dense. After the fires, the landscape is expected to support a larger variety of grasses and forbs.

"We go in with a group of trained national forest service personnel and we will prepare the specific burn unit by oftentimes raking materials to one side of the fire line so there's a fuel break," Ready said. "You can mow, rake or dig down to the mineral soil so when we actually do apply the fire, there's a break and we can control that specific use of fire there."

The sites are closed to the pubic during the fires and access to nearby land will be limited. Local firefighters sometimes help with the procedure, Ready said.

An area of forest at Mount Holly was already completed. Ready said the conditions were good and the prescribed fire went well there.

Plans for prescribed fires in Stratton, Wardsboro, Winhall, Woodford and Bennington were still pending in the Vermont Manchester Ranger District. Other areas up north also are scheduled for such fires.

The goal is to burn between 200 and 300 acres each year throughout the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest in Vermont.

"That's kind of our objective," said Ready. "We really need two dry days with heat."

The forecast for this weekend was looking favorable for the fires.

The prescribed fires are not likely to affect local residents, although smoke will be visible from surrounding areas, according to the U.S. Forest Service.

"Nearby residents may smell smoke," a press release said. "The Forest Service will announce additional details on burn locations closer to the date of planned ignition. If a burn cannot be completed during the designated burn window, or soon after, it will likely be postponed until the fall of 2016."

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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