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Prescribed Burn Helps Reduce Wildfire Threat to Communities

Prescribed Burn Helps Reduce Wildfire Threat to Communities

Story by Quenna Terry

Over the past month, Dickens County fire officials and personnel have provided aid to surrounding counties impacted by recent wildfire threats as far as 150 miles away. Officials have seen homes burned, cities evacuated, livestock killed, and tens of thousands of acres of grazing lands destroyed.

Dickens County has generally been spared complete wildfire devastation. Regardless, the county�s Emergency Management (EM) team continues to work on wildfire mitigation action plans to protect their communities from wildfires.

The EM in Dickens County requested assistance from the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to discuss the need for prescribed burn plans on acres of grass lands in close proximity to the cities of Spur, Dickens and Afton.

�Emergency Management initially asked us for the aerial imagery of the communities,� said Charlie Morris, district conservationist for the NRCS in Spur. �Together, we conducted an evaluation for fire exposure from vegetation of all three cities.�

As a result, mitigation for the cities of Dickens and Afton were executed with simple bladed fire breaks. The vegetation in these cities was determined to be mostly cropland with only minimal ungrazed herbaceous vegetation.

In a similar review conducted for the city of Spur, Morris said they found severe hazard conditions on the west city limits due to heavy CRP vegetation. Dickens County Judge Lesa Arnold immediately requested assistance from the NRCS to work with the CRP landowner in preparation of a defensive prescribed burn plan in an effort to create a fire-safe buffer on the west side of Spur.

�Permission for mitigation action was gained from the landowner on April 18,� Morris said.

Morris and NRCS Rangeland Management Specialist James Lewis developed a complete burn plan which included a 57-acre fire safe buffer for the city�s west side. EM approved the plan and set a tentative prescribed burn date for April 20, knowing that optimal weather conditions would determine their schedule.

Weather forecast called for northeast winds and elevated relative humidity. Morris met with Spur Fire Department personnel the evening before the tentative burn date to review the plan and coordinate the support.

Greg Arnold, assistant EM coordinator and district director of Duck Creek Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD), worked with Dickens County road and bridge crews on preparation and installation of bladed fire guards prior to the prescribed burn. County Commissioner Sheldon Parsons directed the motor graders. All guards were installed and evaluated to be ready if weather conditions were good.

Community support was unwavering. South Plains Electric Cooperative and Caprock Telephone Cooperative granted leave to employees serving as Spur volunteer fire fighters. Traffic control and smoke safety was executed by the Texas Department of Public Safety, Spur Police Department and the Dickens County Sheriff�s office.

Ideal weather conditions made it possible for the prescribed burn. Temperatures were in the mid 60�s, relative humidity was 70 percent, and a steady northeast wind blew at 10 mph.

�The crew gathered on site at 7 a.m. with four wildland fire fighting trucks, one tanker, one fire command vehicle and one county motor grader. NRCS crews were present with an ignition UTV, weather monitoring equipment, and one control burn sprayer,� Morris said.

EM Coordinator Wess Abbott concluded, �Fire safe buffers like this one on the west side of Spur is not a cure-all for protection. Conditions have remained so severe that nothing we create will provide absolute protection from fires of nature.�

However, Abbott explained that the fire break will provide a trench for fire fighters to dig into and make a defensive stand should a severe wildfire approach Spur.

�This action is simply mitigation against wildfire threats. The only cure from a total threat is rain,� he said.

The fire safe buffer was completed by mid-morning. Spur residents can now breathe a little easier knowing a fire guard is there to help in the event a wildfire threatens their community.

Personnel from Dickens County installed a bladed fire-guard according to the NRCS prescribed burn plan. After firebreaks and a prescribed burn were completed on April 20, the threat of wildfire danger was reduced for approximately 1,000 residents in the community of Spur.

Personnel from Dickens County installed a bladed fire-guard according to the NRCS prescribed burn plan.

After firebreaks and a prescribed burn were completed on April 20, the threat of wildfire danger was reduced for approximately 1,000 residents in the community of Spur.

James Lewis, NRCS range management specialist in the Spur field office ignites the backfire in an effort to begin a prescribed burn to protect the west side of the city of Spur. (L to R) NRCS personnel, James Lewis, range management specialist, Charlie Morris, resource team leader and Ricky Paschall, volunteer with the Spur Fire Department assist to mitigate the wildfire danger for the

James Lewis, NRCS range management specialist in the Spur field office ignites the backfire in an effort to begin a prescribed burn to protect the west side of the city of Spur.

(L to R) NRCS personnel, James Lewis, range management specialist, Charlie Morris, resource team leader and Ricky Paschall, volunteer with the Spur Fire Department assist to mitigate the wildfire danger for the
community of Spur.

 

Heavy fuel-loads of CRP cover aided the back fire efforts. Optimal weather created excellent conditions for a successful prescribed burn.