STEVENSVILLE - The Bitterroot National Forest will be igniting one of the largest prescribed burns ever done at the Bass Creek Recreation Area as part of the continuing effort to prevent the possibility of a huge wildfire.
The US Forest Service (USFS) has been conducting a variety of operations at the Bass Creek site north of Stevensville to improve fire safety for the past several years.
The work has included forest thinning projects, but also the use of prescribed burns.
The USFS is planning to take advantage of the sudden warm-up in the weather to burn more than 600 acres on Friday.
It's targeted at burning the "ladder fuels"; brush and other debris on the forest floor which could ignite in a wildfire and create an out of control "crown fire" in the timber.
"It burns through a lot of the pine needles, and the dead branches and so forth and cleans that area up," Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay explained.
"Burns like this also help wildlife habitat. We get new growth and a lot of new forage for wildlife. It helps maintain our forest health," McKay continued. "And most importantly, it prevents the likelihood of having future larger wildfires in that area."
You can actually see the differences between treated, and untreated areas that were caught in past fires like the Lolo Peak blaze in 2017.
Not only are there many adjacent homes that could be jeopardized by a big fire, but it also makes the forest safer with the amount of heavy public use in the woods.
"Bass Creek is one of our most popular areas on the forest, second only to Lake Como. We get about 60,000 visitors in that recreation area. Very popular with horseback riders, hikers, bikers, lots of people walking their dogs so it's a high-use area and we're just trying to maintain the forest health and keep it safe for folks." - Bitterroot National Forest spokesman Tod McKay
Fire crews are taking advantage of a very brief weather window, with plans to only burn Friday but McKay says the area will likely remain closed through the weekend.
"And we'll have firefighters on the ground patrolling and monitoring the burn over the weekend, and then we'll let the public know at what point we're ready to reopen it. Probably next week sometime."
McKay added that recreationists using the area should expect things to look a little different after the burn is complete and should watch for hazard trees along some of the trails and roads.