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Prescribed fire season begins, overlaps with wildfire season

Screenshot of Idaho Department of Fish and Game prescribed fire video

Autumn, when the weather cools, will officially begin on Saturday, but wildfire season, although diminished, will continue. National Weather Service forecasters warned us over the weekend that warm, windy conditions could spread existing fires or cause new ones.

It’s also the time of year when land management agencies want to take advantage of the lower fire danger by doing planned burns of grass and timber slash piles. In the Idaho Panhandle last week, Forest Service teams led by Sarah Jerome began their work.

“We’re starting out now with what we call broadcast or under burning where we’re actually lighting all the fuels as they lay on the ground. We will be able to keep doing that as long as it stays dry through the fall, probably for another two or three weeks until it starts raining again," she said.

After that, she says, her teams will focus on burning piles of slash.

“We have some pretty lofty targets as far as prescribed burning, both activity fuels and natural fuels, natural fuels where we go out into the backcountry roadless areas and we try to modify the fuels on the landscape before wildfire gets to them or just to improve wildlife habitat or vegetation in some way," she said.

The burn window began early this year.

“Our fire danger levels really dropped drastically over the month of August because we had several, not just small, rainstorms, but long duration rainstorms that dropped a lot of moisture across the Panhandle," she said.

"The other thing is that we have varying conditions, oftentimes from north to south because we go from the Canadian border down to the Clearwater River, so we can have really varying conditions across time and space there.”

Jerome says the teams at the burn sites have a long list of conditions to check off before they light the torches. They include temperature, humidity and wind direction so that the smoke generated doesn’t blow toward populated areas. They also have engine trucks and helicopters at the ready in case the fires move in unexpected directions.

The burn window will last until the rainy season begins. Jerome says the spring burn season is scheduled to resume in April or May.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.