Prescribed fire clears under story, fine fuels

The Lodgepole prescribed fire north of Crouch, Idaho, spread this week as higher temperatures made more types of fuels available.

Fire crews continued this week to control the U.S. Forest Service’s prescribed Lodgepole Fire, which spread slowly into adjacent unburned areas with help from recent warmer weather.

Higher temperatures quickly dried needle litter and heavier fuels, allowing the fire to spread and prompting local reports of smoke visible along the Middle Fork Payette River and into the town of Crouch north of Boise. The fire remains within the designated project area. The fire is about 14 miles north of Crouch on National Forest System Road 671.

The immediate area offers limited opportunity for farming or grazing given its steep terrain, but the prescribed fire could benefit timber operators by burning out under-story vegetation and brush, helping larger trees, Boise National Forest spokesman Michael Williamson said.

Following a prescribed burn or mechanical thinning, the remaining trees are healthier because they have less competition, more in-ground nutrients available and greater capacity to fight insects and disease, he said. Thinning also can raise the tree canopy, in effect keeping fire close to the ground and less likely to become large and catastrophic.

Crews have been putting in a fire line to reduce the fire’s spread, and putting out flames found in heavy fuels. The 1,250-acre prescribed fire was started in late April in the largely south-facing area partly to improve wildlife habitat.

Williamson on Monday said the previous weekend’s approximately 60-person crew made significant progress and was expected to downsize to about 20 over the next couple of days.

He said closures of two short spur roads near the base of the fire, which starts at the river and moves higher, are officially in effect until August but will be re-evaluated continuously. This will help crews monitor and control any rollout — loose material moving down from above after fire moves through.

The fire first burned vegetation as well as heavier dead and down fuels. Williamson said higher temperatures subsequently dried finer fuels and enabled the fire to creep into previously unburned areas, producing smoke as it found larger fuels such as small pockets of unburned timber or stumps.

Fire lines create fuel breaks to stop the fire from spreading, though it can continue to creep within containment boundaries, he said.

The Crouch area includes homes and recreation destinations.

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