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Big burn planned in canyon

Forest Service project could start as soon as Friday, will take 3 days

Deseret Morning News graphic

PROVO — Plans are in place and parameters set for a massive prescribed burn that will affect an area of about 6,000 acres in Spanish Fork Canyon.

The rest is up to nature.

About 150 fire crew members from the U.S. Forest Service must now wait for the ideal confluence of temperature, humidity and wind to create an environment where smoke from the burn will harmlessly dissipate before it reaches any population centers.

The burn is planned for sometime between Sept. 30 and Oct. 31, depending on when those conditions arise. The project should take about three days once it begins.

The earliest start date would be Friday or possibly Saturday, said U.S. Forest spokeswoman Loyal Clark on Monday. Next week is more likely since the area needs to be sufficiently dry.

"There will be smoke because we will be burning," said Clark. "People will see smoke, people will smell smoke, but we won't be smoking out any towns."

The Forest Service has a weather monitoring device set up at the point where the burn will begin, near the Rays Valley area, north of U.S. 6 in Spanish Fork Canyon. Once readings are all in line for ideal burn conditions, crews will start the fire.

If even one reading is just slightly off, Clark said, the burn will not take place.

The weather machine is a recent addition to the prescribed burn process — the result of a lesson learned in 2003 when the Cascade Springs II prescribed burn, meant to consume 600 acres, spread out of control and consumed nearly 8,000 acres.

Smoke from the fire filled skies in Utah, Salt Lake and Summit and Wasatch counties with smoke for days, and the the Forest Service was ultimately fined $33,000 for harming air quality and ordered to use the weather machines for more accurate information before beginning a prescribed burn.

Clark said the Forest Service has also improved the planning for prescribed burns and made more detailed preparations, which taken together, make the risk of a Cascade Springs repeat "very minimal."

The Forest Service has successfully executed eight other prescribed burns in this area of the Uinta National Forest, the one accident being the Cascade Springs fire.

This burn will not consume the full 6,000 acres that have been marked off. Clark said crews will burn only in certain areas where the growth is thickest, creating a "mosaic pattern" of new growth throughout the forest.

Prescribed burns are a long-accepted practice for clearing dead vegetation and thick growth to reduce risk of catastrophic wildfires. It also allows fresh vegetation to grow, creating better food sources for wildlife.

The Forest Service will not conduct the burn Oct. 7-9, the first weekend of the rifle elk hunt, or Oct. 21-23, the first weekend of the rifle deer hunt.

"This is a very popular area for both deer and elk," Clark said. "This will inconvenience hunters, but what we tell them . . . is by implementing this project, it will actually increase the quality of the wildlife habitat. Most of the hunters we've talked to have been supportive, even though it will be an inconvenience."

The main inconvenience will be the closures of many of the back roads that hunters use to navigate the forest. Clark said the Forest Service is concerned for the safety of curious onlookers, and said it is important that everyone stay away from the burn once it begins.

More information is available at 377-5780 or