A prescribed burn in the Boggy Draw recreation area of the San Juan National Forest finished a day early, fire officials said Monday.
A forest closure that began Saturday for the burn area remains in effect until later this week while crews patrol the area and mitigate potential hazards. The closure includes the Boggy, Maverick and Italian trails. The Boggy to Bean Canyon and Overlook trails remained open.
The prescribed burn covered a 1,434-acre area and accomplished project goals, said assistant fire management officer Matt Traynham.
A buildup of forest debris was burned off, snags were burned, and oak brush was beat back with the intentionally set fire.
“We’ve completed ignitions, and we are in patrol and monitor status,” Traynham said. “It was an excellent understory burn.”
High fuel moisture and rain kept the fire calm as it crept along the forest floor. There was some single-tree torching but no group-tree torching. A crew of 51 fire personnel managed the burn.
Crews patrolled the fire lines this week to mitigate any fire that may have slopped over and identified hazard trees near public areas that will be cut down.
Once the area is reopened, smoldering will continue for two to three weeks, and there will be hazards off the trails in the burn area such as stump holes and unstable trees. Stump holes result after a tree stump burns below ground, leaving a deceptive hole filled with ash.
A plume of white smoke was visible Saturday but dissipated Sunday and Monday. Southwest winds kept heavy smoke away from Dolores.
The area was targeted for reintroduced fire because it had not seen fire in 30 years, creating built-up fuels. By reducing fuels, the area is less susceptible to large catastrophic wildfires, Traynham said.
The prescribed burn also improves public safety within the heavily forested Boggy Draw recreation area and acts as a fire break for nearby private property and the town of Dolores. Fire also opens the forest canopy, improving grazing for wildlife and cattle. Burned forest litter adds nutrients to soil.
During a media tour, pockets of blackened forest duff and dead snags smoldered in between green meadows lush from a wet winter and spring. Stumps could be seen smoking with occasional flames. The lower branches of ponderosa pine had burned, and oak brush stands were singed.
Prescribed burns are planned and managed far in advance, said public information officer Jessica Borden. They can happen only if wind, fuel moisture, terrain and smoke direction conditions are ideal.
In a prescribed fire, targeted units are lit with a drip torch to burn with the wind direction to a established fire break such as a road. Then the adjacent unit is lit so it burns toward the previous burn area and stops.
If conditions warrant, prescribed burns are planned for 1,500 acres in the Plateau Creek area north of House Creek, and for 3,000 acres in the Lake Canyon area on The Glade. The projects call for ignitions using helicopters with assistance from ground crews.
“Fire is a natural part of the forest ecosystem, and when conditions are right, we take advantage with a prescribed burn,” Borden said. “Reducing the fuel loads acts as a precaution for the next dry period when there is a higher risk for larger wildfire.”