Pile burning

Firefighters from the U.S. Forest Service conducting a prescribed burn project.

With the first significant winter storm of the season this past Wednesday, officials with San Bernardino National Forest are preparing to implement prescribed burning projects across the forest in both the San Bernardino and San Jacinto mountain ranges. 

 The first project was slated for Friday, Nov. 22, at Heaps Peak Helibase, which is on Highway 18 between Lake Arrowhead and Running Springs. 360 piles, culled from approximately 36 acres of fuels reduction around the facility, are targeted if weather conditions remain safe and productive for pile burning. 

Monday, November 25, fire crews began burning piles from 443 acres of brush clearance on the south and southwest areas Big Bear in three locations: to the south of the Sugarloaf neighborhood, in the Moonridge neighborhood along Forest Road 2N27 (Sand Canyon Road) and adjacent to the Moonridge neighborhood between Bear Mountain and Snow Summit ski areas.

The projects only move forward if weather conditions remain safe and productive. They are postponed if not. 

As the winter season continues, other large projects include: 

• Angelus Oaks: 96 acres worth of pile and broadcast burning will occur to create defensible space around the community along Highway 38. 

• Bluff Mesa Meadow:  This 589-acre meadow and surrounding area restoration project, south of Big Bear Lake, has already received hand treatment work and is slated for a broadcast burn.  

• Baldwin Lake: 1,141 acres of piles created by ongoing contract work to increase and maintain defensible space around homes and road systems are targeted for burning.

• City Creek Road (1N09): 32 acres of pile and broadcast burning near Highway 330.

• Pine Cove: This 189-acre broadcast burn will maintain the Pine Cove Fuel Break around the community of Pine Cove, north of Idyllwild.  The nearby Westridge Fuel Break helped firefighters stop the 2018 Cranston Fire along Idyllwild's southern edge. 

• South Big Bear: In addition to the 443 acres mentioned above, more acreage for broadcast burning may be added later in the season. The public will be notified in advance. 

• Thomas Mountain:  A broadcast burn that continues prior efforts for ecological restoration and community defense within Garner Valley.  This operation on 1,097 acres of land, with burning targeted for 30 to 70 percent of it, will include the use of helicopter ignition for firefighter safety and effectiveness.  

In addition to these large projects, pile burning may occur over the season at several U.S. Forest Service fire stations, visitor centers, recreational areas and communication tower sites. Crews will also be out performing mechanical and hand thinning of other areas, which is the first step toward conditions safe for prescribed burning. Before burns, forest staff will notify the public and media via social media and news advisories. 

The ignition of all prescribed burns is dependent on several environmental conditions (e.g. wind, humidity, temperature, etc), availability of fire personnel and equipment. The projects are conducted in coordination with the National Weather Service and South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) in order to manage smoke production and minimize impacts as much as possible. 

Prescribed burning is a forest management activity that helps restore ecological functions to the forest. Fire has a natural role in coniferous regions of San Bernardino National Forest. Caused naturally by lightning, fire has long maintained the health of forests, clearing brush on the forest floor and releasing seeds from pinecones, among other natural processes. 

Aggressive firefighting and development within the forest over the past century has allowed fuels to unnaturally build up. That means an overabundance of flammable brush, which can enable wildfire in quickly spreading into the canopy and toward communities and infrastructure. Thinning forested areas helps protect such areas.

Forest officials, highly encourage residents and business owners to also do their part by creating defensible space around their structures and planting fire-resistant landscaping.

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