Fort Riley, Kansas



Prescribed burns preserve post’s natural ecosystem

By Julie Fiedler | 1ST INF. DIV. POST | March 19, 2014

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 steady grasslands.”

Typically, Fort Riley’s burn season runs from late August to mid-May. This time of the year is especially busy.

“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 ecosystems.”

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,” he said.

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 even more.”

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.”
Tag Environment   Tag Prescribed burns