The Highlands Center participated in a prescribed burn demonstration by the Prescott National Forest Service (PNF) on Saturday October 28th. A prescribed burn is a wildfire that is planned, ignited and managed by one or more fire crews. This was a unique educational opportunity open to the public, and it was planned for very carefully. It involved 5 acres directly north of the of HCNH facilities. The introduction, description, and set-up for the burn involved 3 teams of PNF personal.
Fire is a natural occurrence in the forest, and tree ring samples show that historically fire occurred here naturally every 3-7 years. Decades of suppressing all fires have left the forest overgrown with fuels and vegetation. Some native species of plants require fire to return after years of lying dormant under piles of pine needles and debris. In the past, this debris was regularly consumed by a natural cycle of fire. These fires improve forest health including soil, water and the variety of plant and wildlife species.
Fires burned naturally in this area for thousands of years until settlement by non-native people brought a policy of fire suppression to protect communities and structures. This policy reduced the number of naturally occurring fires, but increased the intensity and destructiveness of the fires that did occur. More recent research and study have led to a change in attitude about the value of natural fire. Our Forest Service is at the forefront of adopting these new strategies and has engaged in a partnership with HCNH to educate and demonstrate the benefit of fire to our forest and our communities. The 5 acre area that was burned on October 28 had already been treated by a variety of methods including; hand thinning, mechanized thinning, commercial cuts and mastication. All of the treatments, including the prescribed burn this past October, had a twofold goal, (1) a healthier forest with less fuel for wildfires and (2) the opportunity for public education.
Contributed by Pat Gulley, Highlands Center Naturalist