SPANISH FORK CANYON — Thursday was a rare, good day for a fire.
And forest officials hope they will be as fortunate again today.
"It's a good day, you can hear it," said Kathy Jo Pollock, regional spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, as she watched firefighters discuss the day's events.
"I think we had a successful day today," said David Provencio. Provencio served as the burn boss for the fire designed to clean out deadwood, overgrown oak brush and long-lived Aspen stands on 2,408 acres.
"We worked out all of our briefing and orientation needs. We were within the prescription. We're looking forward to tomorrow," Provencio said.
Provencio had the unenviable task of taking the lead on the first prescribed burn in the Utah County area since the ill-fated Cascade Springs II fire burned out of control last summer, filling the Salt Lake, Heber and Utah valleys with smoke and angering a large number of residents.
But Provencio said he and his crew took on the task with renewed vigor and attention to detail.
"Yesterday, we had a pre-briefing where we came up and walked the site. We got all the bugs out so today there were no surprises," he said.
In addition, Mother Nature cooperated beautifully, he said. The clearing index was high enough that the billowing white smoke dissipated quickly.
The fire caught quickly and spread predictably with light winds from the northwest pushing it along.
Pollock said all of the 35 items on the burn checklist were cleared and a test burn was set by 11:30 a.m.
Crews hand lit a fire perimeter using drip torches and a terra torch hose (devices that drop a flammable stream of gel onto the fire fuels) and a helicopter dropped ping-pong-size balls filled with combustible powder and gel into the forest interior.
Within minutes, puffs of smoke turned to clouds, and the burn was on its way.
"This area hasn't had a burn through it in probably 75-100 years," said Bill Ott, Spanish Fork district ranger. "The oak brush has probably missed two to three burn cycles. It's well overdue."
Without a healthy periodic burn, the forest suffers as do the wildlife who can't forage off the old, thick brush.
A prescribed burn not only helps the forest revegetate but serves to prevent catastrophic wildfires that burn too hot and destroy everything in their path. A controlled burn can be set in a mosaic pattern and add diversity, Pollock said.
Crews wrapped a few pine trees with fire resistant material and took care to set the fires so as to miss as many pines as possible.
"We want to leave those where we can," Pollock said. Some Aspen trees were spared as well to ensure there will eventually be stands of young, middle-aged and older trees among the new vegetation.
"This is where you want to hunt next year," Ott said. "This is where the wildlife will be."
Only about 1,000 acres were burned Thursday, leaving a similar amount to be burned Friday.
Crews will reassemble at 7:30 a.m. to assess the weather conditions and go through the checklist again.
"It's looking really good. Actually, we were hoping to get it all done today, but we should have Friday, Saturday and maybe Sunday if we need it," Pollock said.