Fire season planning begins months ahead
Published: Thursday, August 2nd, 2012
There are, on average, 120 fires a year on Black Hills National Forest land. Of the 1.2 million acres of land in South Dakota and Wyoming, around 8,000 acres will be impacted a year by fires. Lightning, something that many residents in the Black Hills are familiar with, will start most of the anticipated fires during the prime fire season, beginning in June and lasting through September.
Recently, thunderstorms with large amounts of lightning had the Forest Service issuing high alerts and warnings. For the Forest Service, the real preparation begins long before the first strike of lightning.
“These are predictable occasions every summer,” said Craig Bobzien, Forest Supervisor for the Black Hills National Forest. “We form a plan months ahead of fire season. We look at our staffing levels and don’t go below a certain level.”
The Black Hills National Forest employs nearly 100 year-round and seasonal firefighters, but if the situation is dire, the Forest will staff at a higher level.
“If fires are likely, shifts will extend into the early evening,” Bobzien said. “As soon as fires are detected, crews will go out and contain them. The goal is to reach full containment as soon as possible.”
The Forest follows a national fire rating danger system. Each level varies, depending on weather conditions, energy release, fuels, topography and availability of fire suppression resources. The Forest often uses the Haines Index, which helps firefighters understand the behavior of fires and what to expect.
“The National Fire Danger Rating System has been around for decades,” Bobzien said. “Knowing the fuel conditions and predicted weather gives us an advantage.”
Todd Pechota, forest fire maintenance officer, is responsible for fire aviation and fuels management for the entire Black Hills National Forest.
Available only in the print version of the Custer County Chronicle. Call 605-673-2217.
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