KALISPELL - It’s that time of year when large plumes of smoke are still visible across forest lands in Northwest Montana, despite the colder months fast approaching.
Flathead National Forest officials are reminding residents that certain smoke plums are prescribed burns as they work to limit potential high-intensity wildfire risks in dangerous areas.
“Anything that we can do to help mitigate the fuel load that’s been out there that’s been accumulating for years,” said Flathead National Forest Fire Management Officer Rick Connell.
Flathead National Forest officials have burned close to 2,000 acres of forest land in just over two weeks.
“We just want to make sure that we don’t lose these prescribed burns so we’re burning in the shoulder seasons when we have that opportunity,” added Connell.
Connell said prescribed burns are planned years in advance, burning in areas of concern if a wildfire were to break out.
“We take little blocks out so that we can hopefully give us a better chance of holding a large fire and then also reducing the amount of smoke from wildfire,” said Connell.
Connell said 850 acres have been approved for burning near Whitefish Mountain Resort over a multi-year time frame to protect the municipal watershed.
He said a large wildfire in that location could be devastating because the watershed is the primary source of drinking water for Whitefish.
“So, we’re burning primarily south aspects so that the encroachment that has happened due to lack of fire, we can take that out so that if we get a fire, it will be less intense,” added Connell.
Connell said the Whitefish Municipal Watershed prescribed burn has now been postponed this season because weather conditions did not line up as previously forecasted.
“So, we wanted rain to come in and last week they were talking a half inch or more and then by Friday they were dropping down to a tenth to a quarter inch and we just didn’t want to take that risk,” said Connell.
He said prescribed burns help forests increase resilience to insects and diseases and improves wildlife species' habitat.
“Burning off these west and south aspects so that in the spring they can get up there and get into good forage early is also a good thing and if you’re up in the real high elevations with bighorn sheep which we don’t have but Glacier National Park or other partners do, you’re also looking at their transitory range from winter to summer habitat," said Connell.
Connell said prescribed burns will continue on Flathead National Forest land for the next two to three weeks, weather permitting.