Post controls wildfires with prescribed burns
Firefighters initiate a prescribed burn April 2 in one of the training areas at Fort Riley. Photo by: Calun Reece, POST.
Story by: Calun Reece
1ST INF. DIV. POST
The sight and smell of smoke is a common occurrence in the local area during this time of the year.
Prescribed burns happen seasonally at Fort Riley and are used to help control wildfires from breaking out in grassland areas on post, according to Mark R. Neely, wildland program manager, Environmental Division, Directorate of Public Works.
The areas of prescribed burns also are the training grounds for Fort Riley Soldiers.
Despite recent snow and rain, Fort Riley and the surrounding area is still in a drought, which increases the chances of wildfires happening, Neely said.
"We're really cutting down on the hazardous fuel for the summer, so training can continue on without as much threat of a wildfire as if we were not burning," Neely said.
The times for prescribed burns at Fort Riley also have been spread out through most of the year to help manage the smoke.
The Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan was implemented a couple of years ago because air quality levels in some downwind cities and towns were being exceeded, Neely explained.
Part of the plan allows only agricultural burning to be conducted during the month of April.
"Kansas has a very strong heritage of burning," he said. "Landowners have been burning for generations."
In the spring, people will smell smoke, whether it's a Fort Riley prescribed burn or neighboring landowners. Landowners burn to generate grass, so they can successfully run their cattle business production.
Prescribed burns also help maintain the grasslands, while having control over the area being burned. It stimulates growth, controls invasive plants, reduces the risk of wildfires and also improves forage and habitat for wildlife in grasslands.
"We're still getting benefits from the environmental side, but … We know we're going to have a pretty active wildland fire season because of the drought conditions," Neely said. "If we can get as much as possible burnt off now, it's going to save us the efforts later."
Prescribed burns are a team effort by the Environmental Division, DPW; Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation; Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security; and the Directorate of Emergency Services.
"It's a good partnership," Neely said. "Without constant communication between (the) partners, these burns would not come to fruition."
Members of DES and Fire Station One were recently out conducting a prescribed burn.
Participating in the burns has been a great experience, said Captain Glen Whitaker, Fire Station One, Fire and Emergency Services, DES.
Managing prescribed burns is one of Fire Station One's primary missions.
"Part of what makes my job so enjoyable, and, frankly, pretty easy out of (Fire) Station One are the guys that I have working with me," Whitaker said.
The work is long and hard, he said, adding that sometimes the men will spend 10 to 12 hours at a time on a prescribed burn, but no one complains.
"I have very good firefighters," he added.
For more information about prescribed burns, visit www.ksfire.org/.