Fort McCoy News March 28, 2014

Prescribed burns cut wildfire chance, help habitats

Public Affairs Staff

Fort McCoy's first prescribed burn of the year was March 14 along the railroad grade that extends through the South Post range areas.

Photo 1 for prescribed burns article
The first prescribed burn of 2014 occurred along the railroad grade that extends through Fort McCoy's South Post range areas. The area was selected based on the potential for passing trains to spark wildfires where dead vegetation lined the tracks.

The layers of snow still present in many of the areas around post offered a natural barrier to fire spreading beyond the planned area of the burn.

Jim Kerkman, installation forester for the Directorate of Public Works (DPW) Natural Resources Branch, said completing and planning prescribed burns throughout the post is a team effort by many, to include participation from the DPW, Directorate of Emergency Services (DES) and the Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security (DPTMS).

"Prescribed burns generally are done in the spring and fall seasons because weather conditions are most favorable at those times," Kerkman said.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) defines prescribed burns as a way to "improve wildlife habitat, control invasive plant species, restore and maintain native plant communities and reduce wildfire potential." It's all those reasons and more why the prescribed burning effort is completed on post.

Photo 2 for prescribed burns article
Charles Mentzel, Fort McCoy forestry technician, communicates over the radio while overseeing a prescribed burn.

"Prescribed burns help reduce wildfire potential in areas all around the post — especially in places where military training is taking place," said Charles Mentzel, a Fort McCoy forestry technician who was one of the people leading the first prescribed burn. "We make sure our firing range and training areas are at the lowest risk possible during spring and summer, which is our busiest time on post for military training."

The railroad grade location was selected based on the potential for passing trains to spark wildfires where dead vegetation lines the tracks. Kerkman said the planning for prescribed burns is mapped out in the Fort McCoy Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan.

"This plan sets the environmental groundwork to support the installation's training mission," Kerkman said. "Prescribed burning aids in providing a safe training environment for the people who use our range areas, and also helps promote new growth of trees and plants."

Photo 3 for prescribed burns article
Fort McCoy Firefighter Brady Brever ignites a
section of brush during a prescribed burn on
South Post.

Every spring and fall, Kerkman organizes a planning meeting among the participating directorates to determine prescribed burn areas. Brent Friedl, Integrated Training Area Management coordinator for the DPTMS Range Management Branch, attends those meetings to provide input on areas range management personnel determine need a prescribed burn.

"Generally the North Impact Area and several of the range areas, such as Ranges 6, 18 and 29, are considered a priority to burn to reduce fuels on an annual basis," Friedl said. "If the ranges and the impact area are not regularly burned, when live-fire events occur, there is a greater likelihood of a fire impacting training or becoming a wildfire and possibly escaping range areas."

Assistant Fire Chief Tim Jorgensen serves as the DES leader for managing prescribed burn support at the fire department. He said every time a prescribed burn is planned, they notify agencies and people in the surrounding areas about the burn plan and time frame.

"We contact a number of people so they aren't surprised when these types of controlled fires are being managed," Jorgensen said. Some of those contacts include nearby dispatch personnel for emergency services, as well as the WDNR.

Jorgensen added the combined team, which manages and supports the prescribed burn program, is doing a great job.

"Every year we look at what happened last year and improve on it," Jorgensen said.

"The team puts together a great combined effort make it happen and help keep our fire danger low on Fort McCoy."

For more information on the prescribed burn program, call Kerkman at the installation forestry office at 608-388-2102.