With the help of the Deschutes County Sheriff’s Office and others, the Deschutes National Forest on Saturday implemented the first prescribed burn of the West Bend Project area adjacent to Phil's Trailhead, sending up a towering smoke plume visible across the area.
The Deschutes National Forest was looking to mitigate fire risk by taking out some of the brush and needles that easily fuel flames.
“What we're trying to do is reintroduce fire as a natural process, and to do so in ways that are confined and controlled, so that we don't have a catastrophic fire,” said Kevin Larkin, Bend-Fort Rock District ranger.
Extra brush and needle components are what can turn a small fire into a catastrophic one.
“Having removed fire for the last hundred years or so with fire suppression has created the unnatural conditions, the heavy fuel loads that create the risk for high-severity fire,” said Pete Caligiuri, forest ecologist.
Larkin said the smoke would be visible from town -- and indeed it was -- but shouldn't cause too much of a disturbance.
“The winds will blow smoke away from town, away from populated areas, so we're minimizing the risk that we're going to have smoke set into Bend, and that comes with the consequence of inconveniencing some recreational users here at Phil's Trailhead,” Larkin said.
The Forest Service made sure forest maintenance was at the forefront.
“We're trying to reapply and reestablish fire when it's appropriate, so we can have the controlled burns that you're seeing here today,” Caligiuri said.
Larkin is thankful for the community's cooperation and support of the prescribed burn, and also the many crew members who help keep us safe.
“I'm really excited to shine the spotlight on the firefighters that are out there,” Larkin said. “These are some of the best fire managers that we have in this country, and they're out there working on this project right now, so I'm excited to show off their work.”
The last ignition finished around 3 p.m. Saturday. Even though the burn is setup for the wind to blow the smoke away from town, it should still be visible in the immediate area for the next several days.