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Forest Service: Uintas prescribed burn proceeding as planned, wildland firefighters monitoring

Smoke rises from the U.S. Forest Service's Ponderosa prescribed burn project in Wasatch National Forest in June 2024.
U.S. Forest Service Unita-Wasatch-Cache National Forest
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Smoke rises from the U.S. Forest Service's Ponderosa prescribed burn project in Wasatch National Forest in June 2024.

As temperatures rise and the landscape dries, a prescribed burn in the Uintas intensified over the weekend.

The Ponderosa prescribed burn project 10 miles east of Kamas began in May.

Smoke has been visible intermittently across the Kamas Valley, most recently on July 7, when Summit County issued a reminder not to report smoke to authorities.

The county said the smoke column was a mile within the prescribed burn boundaries.

Ken Verboncoeur, deputy district ranger out of the Heber-Kamas office, said Oregon-based wildland firefighters are monitoring the fire closely.

“We're not putting [the burn] out, but they're just making sure that they're fenced off and that they are not going to move into any areas outside of the box that we have that we have established,” Verboncoeur said.

Any time rangers see a smoke column or their infrared technologies detect hot spots, the firefighters dig a fire break to keep them within burn boundaries.

The Heber-Kamas Ranger District brought in the team from Oregon because they had the most availability. The firefighters have been assisting with the burn project for more than two weeks, Verboncoeur said.

He said the last time they ignited vegetation was June 12. Until July 7, the fire was mostly smoldering.

“If a smoldering fire moves into an area that's more receptive to the fire, then it'll kick up into some open flames. And that's what this group out of Oregon is then working for us,” the ranger said. “That ensures that it doesn't doesn't grow into a bigger spot than what's active there.”

Summit County upped its fire danger to “very high” July 8, and the National Weather Service included parts of northern Utah in a red flag warning ahead of July Fourth.

But the Uinta Mountains haven’t been included in any red flag or critical fire danger warnings yet this year.

A report released by the federal Government Accountability Office July 8 shows the U.S. Forest Service’s prescribed burns rarely grow out-of-control.

From 2012 to 2021, 43 of 50,000 such fires escaped the prescribed boundaries.

Five of those were in Utah, and the most significant was 2018’s Trail Mountain fire east of Ephraim, which burned 18,000 acres more than planned.

Earlier this summer, a prescribed burn near Beaver grew into the 5,000-acre Little Twist fire, which was 40% contained as of July 8.

The Forest Service said prescribed burns are intended to ward off large fires, as well as maintain and restore habitat.

Since May, rangers in the Uintas have burned 2,600 acres with low-intensity fires. The only area currently closed to the public is the Shingle Creek trail.

The Ponderosa prescribed burn is so named because the area east of Kamas is one of the only places in Utah with native Ponderosa pine trees.

Verboncoeur said that's why it’s critical to help the tree stand flourish.

“We're looking to reduce any thick understory from juniper, mountain brush, lodgepole pine … anything that's on the ground to open up the ground so that those Ponderosa seedlings have a better chance at growing,” he explained.

Residents are reminded not to report prescribed burns to authorities. KPCW reports prescribed burn updates on air and online at KPCW.org.