Using Fire To Prevent Fires

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Pile burnings continue throughout the county

By Kirsten Laskey

A huge smoke plume casting a black smudge in the sky can certainly cause uneasiness for onlookers, especially in Los Alamos after the Cerro Grande Fire. However, residents need not worry when seeing smoke rising from Pueblo Canyon because those clumps of fire are being set professionally in an effort to prevent future wildfires.
U.S. Forest Service, under contract through Los Alamos County, began burning piles Jan. 13. Bill Armstrong of the Santa Fe National Forest is supervising the project with Open Space Specialist Craig Martin. Armstrong said the intention is to hand over to the county administration forest conditions that can be maintained.
“Forests are messy,” Armstrong said. “Conducting the burnings is like cleaning out a closest. If fuel levels are down to a safe level then burn maintenance is easier.”
Los Alamos County received $12 million from FEMA for forest thinning work. The county spends $50,000 a year on fire maintenance.  
Workers gather pieces of pitch-filled wood, which Martin described as a gooey mix of organic chemicals found inside of trees. The wood is stacked in piles, doused with a
mixture of diesel and gasoline and ignited with drip torches.

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