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Burn-offs not as extensive as planned

This winter, I’ve seen more controlled burns than I can remember. The last few days in particular there has been a lot of smoke going up in the Ashland watershed, eerily reminiscent of the summer fires we had a couple of years ago. Have more acres been burned this year than in any other year?

— Brandon L., Ashland

After two horrible years of fires in 2017 and 2018, crews have tried to step up efforts to thin forests to make them less of a threat to Ashland.

Most of the smoke you’ve seen over the last couple of days has been from burning underbrush to help control vegetation growing above Reeder Reservoir. Some 40 acres were torched Wednesday, with 56 acres slated to be burned Thursday.

According to Chris Chambers with Ashland Fire & Rescue, this is the first time undergrowth has been burned so early in the year for about 10 years. Typically undergrowth burn-offs are later in the season.

This is largely due to the prolonged period of dry weather we’ve had this February, often referred to as the February fake-out because of the spring-like weather.

But the dry weather has put a crimp in efforts to burn piles of slash and other debris from forest-thinning projects.

Chambers said crews had a double whammy this winter because snow made it difficult to access burn piles in upper elevations. At the same time, humidity levels dropped, making it difficult to light the piles safely.

As a result, only have the 3,200 acres of burn piles have been torched this season so far.

“The more work we get done now, the better off we will be in summer,” he said.

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