This time of year,
community members may see smoke on the horizon or catch a whiff that smells
like burning. That’s par for the course during prescribed burn season, said
Mark Neely, Fort Riley wildland manager.
“You’ll see the smoke.
Depending on wind direction, you may smell the smoke,” he said. “It’s probably
one of the few jobs on the installation that when you are doing the work,
everybody on the installation is aware of the fact that you’re doing work.”
Community members need not
be alarmed. Far from being a destructive force, these wildland burns are
essential to managing and maintaining the natural ecosystems and habitats of
many plant and animal species on post.
“By applying fire to the grasslands
and by applying fire to the landscapes, we’re keeping the natural prairie species
in their place and not allowing brush species to choke them out,” Neely explained.
“It rejuvenates the ground, so that new grass can come back up, so we can keep very
Typically, Fort Riley’s
burn season runs from late August to mid-May. This time of the year is
“We’re going to start
getting hot and heavy. Usually this time of year – March – we’re burning daily.
As long as the weather’s right, and we have an area that we can get into, the
firefighters are out there getting the job done,” Neely said. “Our goal is to
burn 25,000 to 30,000 acres a year. We try to spread that over many months, so
the smoke impact is minimized.”
A detailed wildland fire mitigation
plan is drawn up, taking into account other burns in area, regulatory
compliance, ecosystem management and more.
“We’ve got very, very good natural
resource management plans here on post, which wildland fire management plan is
a part of,” Neely said. “Between the (Directorate of Public Works) and (Fort
Riley Fire and Emergency Services), we do a very good job of managing large-scale
Neely added Fort Riley’s FES
must take into account the training schedules of units on post, as well as
weather conditions when conducting a prescribed burn.
“Many things have to line up,”
For example, temperatures must
be above 40 and below 95 degrees. Wind speeds must be less than 15 mph, and
wind direction is a factor.
“We may have an appropriate
wind speed, but in a wrong direction, and we may not be able to accomplish that
burn … We’ve got to be very mindful of where our smoke is going, so we don’t
affect any other operations,” Neely explained. “If all those stars align … then
we can accomplish the burn.”
Given that conditions like weather
can affect prescribed burns, the mitigation plan is evaluated twice a year to
ensure the burns are on course.
“We re-evaluate the
wildland fire mitigation plan and see what was burned, what’s not burned, what
wildfires happened, what upcoming training events are happening, what other
land management practices may be going on,” Neely said. “We have to really work
in conjunction with all these other entities on the installation to make sure
our fires are not detrimental to their work or our fires may benefit their work
Although many burns take place
during March, Neely explained scheduling the burns and evaluating the plan is
an ongoing process.
“It’s a continuous cycle,” he said. “This is an
ongoing event 12 months out of the year that we’re either planning for the upcoming
fire season or we’re in the fire season.”