Prescribed burns are vital for the health of the Ponderosa Pine forests we have here at Devils Tower. The burn reduces competition with other species and opens the seed cones of the mature trees. It also helps reduce the fuel available for a wildfire, which is important when you are in the Plains and wildfires are a fairly common occurrence.
This burn has been planned for over a year now, but kept being delayed because the conditions were not right. Too dry. Too windy. Too wet. etc. Finally, a year later, conditions were looking good. The burn was planned and the fire crews began work preparing the 120 acre burn site. They built fire breaks and cut down trees that could become hazardous in the fire. But still conditions were not quite right, so we waited.
When the conditions are right for a fire, sometimes you may not have much warning. For me, I came back from my weekend to find out we are burning! It was exciting to see the fire crew set up the various fire engines and run the hoses out to various areas of the park. I should mention that the area they were burning just so happened to begin less than 20 feet from the Visitor Center and Ranger Office! There was some concern at the beginning of the fire, if the wind started up too strongly our historic buildings would be right in the path of the flames.
Fortunately, Mother Nature cooperated and the wind was nearly non-existent for the majority of the day. (Great for the fire crews! Less great for the rangers standing in the thick cloud of smoke while directing traffic and people.) The smoke became thick enough along the road (which was also a fire break) that we had to use a pilot car to lead visitors up to and down from the Visitor Center.
Even though the smoke was chokingly dense at times (and still hanging around because the wind hasn’t whisked it all away just yet) the fire was a success. It remained contained in the original planned area, our fire crews were unscathed, and our forest is blackened and charred. But before long, that charring will led to new growth and young Ponderosa Pines growing up. I’m looking forward to watching how the area changes over the next several months.