RACO, Mich. (WFRV) — Hiawatha National Forest fire personnel successfully conducted two controlled burns in the forest on May 7 and 8.
Both the 573-acre Rifle Range Prescribed Fire and the 237-acre Porcupine Prescribed Fire were performed to improve wildlife habitat and reduce hazardous fire fuels.
“We were fortunate to have two consecutive days with excellent weather conditions followed now by rain,” noted Eric Rebitzke, Fire Management Officer for Hiawatha and Ottawa National Forests.
The fires also allowed officials to use aerial ignition techniques for the first time.
Prior to each burn, firefighters burned a strip of vegetation around the perimeter of the intended fire location to create a fuel break.
Then, a helicopter flew over the project area to dispense lit fuel spheres, which look like ping pong balls. The dispenser punctures and ignites each sphere before releasing it out of the helicopter.
Once it reaches the ground, the burning fuel ignites the vegetation, allowing the fire to naturally build over time.
“Traditionally, crews of wildland firefighters light prescribed burns by methodically walking through the area using drip torches to spread fire,” explained Brenda Dale, a US Forest Service Zone Fire Management Officer stationed on the Hiawatha.
While this is a reliable method, using the fuel sphere is ideal for larger landscape areas.
Further, because the Rifle Range Fire was previously managed by the Department of Defense, there was a risk of “unexploded ordnance,” according to the US Forest Service.
Smoke was a concern with these fires, but its impact was managed by using aerial ignition.
With aerial ignition, the burn period of the fire is reduced and heat is able to build quickly. Because of the rapidness of the heat building, the plume of smoke is able to lift higher into the atmosphere, reducing the impact of the smoke.
The US Forest Service states a prescribed fire releases less smoke than a wildfire as wildfires usually occur during drier conditions, which allows the fire to become larger.
Another prescribed fire is planned for May 13 and 14, weather depending, in the Hiawatha National Forest.