BENTON COUNTY, Ore. — You may have noticed a large plume of smoke hovering over the Willamette Valley Thursday afternoon. There’s no need to worry, it was a prescribed burn put on by state and U.S. departments.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Department of Forestry crews set off controlled burns at the William L. Finley National Wildlife Refuge and throughout the Willamette Valley every year to improve the habitat for threatened or endangered species.
The burn on Thursday is specifically aimed at helping wintering geese.
Canadian geese migrate down to the Willamette Valley every winter.
In an attempt to keep them out of farmer’s fields and in the wildlife refuge, crews have to make their habitat more desirable.
To do that, they implement a controlled burn
“Just improves the nutrient transfer from the dead and dying grass from the growing season the year before and it improves the ground so that we can come in and seed it easier,” said Fire Management Officer Greg Hagedorn for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Controlling a burn on nearly 130 acres takes months of preparation.
Crews first have to get approval, make sure the weather is favorable, and set up a barrier around the burn site.
Then, since the wind was blowing from the north on Thursday, crews ignited the grass on the south side first for safety reasons.
“We’re creating an entire area where the fire is gone, and we’re controlling that, so we now know that behind us, there’s no way the fire can go,” said Prescribed Fire Technician Frank Connor for the Willamette Valley Refuge Complex.
Firefighters used drip torches to ignite the grass as they walked up the sides of the field.
Meanwhile, another crew set off flares to pull the smoke toward the middle.
“Safety is once again our concern, when you pull it in, it reduces the smoke exposure on our firefighters and also gets it up in the air and out of here as fast as we can,” Connor said.
According to the Oregon Department of Forestry, this year there’s been a total of 440 fires that have burned almost 2,000 acres.
Crews say controlled fires like the one on Thursday are the best way to prepare firefighters for the real thing.
Fire crews will monitor the burn, checking for any hotspots throughout the day, and will comeback on Friday to make sure it’s fully contained.
Geese video courtesy: George Gentry