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Controlled burns set for watershed

From today through next spring, forest managers will light controlled fires in the Ashland Watershed when weather conditions are favorable.

Ashland Forest Resiliency plans to complete controlled burning of more than 400 acres before next summer to help reduce the threat of catastrophic wildfire and improve the health of the forest, said Chris Chambers, Ashland Fire & Rescue's forest resource specialist.

Workers will be burning debris piles stacked across portions of forest thinned by the Lomakatsi Restoration Project last year.

Chambers said burning piles during the fall, winter and spring reduces the amount of fuel available to a wildfire, giving firefighters a better chance of corraling a developing blaze.

"We've seen how wildfire can move faster than our resources can manage it," said Ashland Fire & Rescue Fire Chief John Karns. "Any effort to reduce the intensity of a wildfire near the city is a high priority."

The city plans to continue controlled burns each spring for several years until all forestland in the watershed has been touched by fire, and then to burn a portion every five to 10 years, Chambers said.

That plan, along with thinning and selective logging, is all part of an attempt to restore the forest to the way it was 150 years ago, when wildfires controlled overgrowth in the area, he said.

Before burning can begin, forest managers will have to wait until Mother Nature gives the go-ahead.

"Finding that perfect window can be a bit challenging," said Chambers. "Everything kind of has to line up."

It can't be too wet, too dry, too windy or too calm, he said. The formula involves monitoring humidity levels, to make sure fuels will burn — but not too hot — and planning ahead for incoming weather.

The burning will be managed by the Lomakatsi Restoration Project and the U.S. Forest Service; however, Grayback Foresty Inc. workers will be lighting the piles and doing most of the ground work.

Grayback recently was awarded a $50,000 contract from Lomakatsi to complete up to 1,500 acres of burning in the watershed.

The burns will be close to the edge of town, said Chambers, and will put up a lot of smoke. He said forest managers will wait for the right weather conditions to keep the smoke away from town.

"We urge residents to check the city's information before calling 9-1-1 regarding smoke above town during the wet season," he said.

The city of Ashland will notify residents about each burn through its website, www.ashland.or.us, its Smoke and Wildfire Hotline, at 541-552-2490, and on 1700 AM, the city's emergency radio station.

Residents can sign up for notifications via email by clicking on the "notify me by email" button at the AFR project website at ashlandwatershed.org.

Sam Wheeler is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-499-1470 or by email at swheeler@dailytidings.com.