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Forest Service will now fight small fires more aggressively

August 08, 2012|By Michael Muskal
  • A Forest Service helicopter returns to the south fork of the Payette River after dropping water on the Springs Fire in Idaho.
A Forest Service helicopter returns to the south fork of the Payette River… (Joe Jaszewski, The Idaho…)

Amid tough conditions in the current fire season, the U.S. Forest Service is moving to more aggressively extinguish small fires before they become larger ones, an official said Wednesday.

The service has in the past allowed small fires to burn in isolated areas where there is no additional threat, viewing the blazes -- which consume undergrowth and other fuel -- as part of the normal cycle of natural fire management.

Now, the department will fight some of these smaller fires more forcefully, allowing the use of some mechanized equipment in the process. The individual decisions will be based on weather conditions, the amount of fuel load, the dryness of the area and whether there are nearby developments, spokesman Joe Walsh said by telephone from Washington.

“This is all based on the fact that everything is so dry and there’s been no rain and it’s just the prudent thing to do,” Walsh said. “There hasn’t been a change in policy,” he said, noting that local fire supervisors make such decisions in accordance with their local operations plan.

“They have the ability to do this in an effort to keep fire costs down, rather than letting something in a wilderness get out of control and then get out of the wilderness,” Walsh said.

He said he couldn’t comment on past wildfires, but the aggressive stand is currently allowing crews to move with chain saws and helicopters against six small fires in the wilderness along the California border with Oregon around Grants Pass.

Normally, firefighters would use hand saws to deal with the six small fires covering about 15 acres. But they are now allowed to use the mechanized equipment, he said.

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