HELENA — The US Forest Service (USFS) is working to reduce wildfire risks and keep the forest healthy in the hills south of Helena.
During the summer months, crews work to take down smaller trees and other brush that could be fuel for wildfires. Then during the winter, fire teams from the USFS burn those same piles, later coming back to burn even more underbrush and small saplings.
"Basically, what this is doing is mimicking the effects of a natural wildfire through a controlled fashion. In ponderosa pine forests — like the ones in the South Hills — historically, a natural low-intensity wildfire would burn through the area about every three-to-five years. However, allowing a nature wildfire to run its course in the area would be disastrous due to homes, the proximity to the town and it could impact the area's drinking water. - Assistant Fire Management Officer for the Fuels and Prescribed Fire Program Assistant Fire Management Officer Kyle Miller
Through prescribed burning, the USFS is ridding the forest floor of excess fuel in the case of an actual wildfire. They are essentially fighting fire with fire, by mimicking natural wildfires.
“And putting it into piles, burning those piles, and then we’ll be coming through afterwards with an understory low-intensity burn under the canopy to increase resilience for the ecosystem as well as protect our communities here of catastrophic wildfire,” Miller explained.
This doesn’t guarantee that a wildfire couldn’t affect the South Hills, but it does lessen the chances of a large and destructive wildfire.
People can always check the Helena-Lewis & Clark National Forest Facebook page to see if it is indeed a prescribed burn they are conducting.