Medicine Bow, Routt National Forests to Implement Winter Pile Burning

Forecasted and existing snow on the ground will provide conditions allowing U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service fire personnel on the Medicine Bow and Routt National Forests to begin slash pile burning in coming weeks and months.

Existing piles are typically a result of fuels reduction projects on the two National Forests in Colorado and Wyoming. Pile burning removes undesirable fuels for long-term public safety and for years has been an important part of the USDA Forest Service fire/fuels annual program of work.

Forest users and the public should expect to see smoke throughout the upcoming months. Piles may be burned near communities, travel routes, and popular recreation areas. The burning of highly visible piles will be advertised closer to ignition and questions should be directed to local Forest Service offices.

Fall/winter conditions allow for accomplishment of most annual pile burning by the Forests, however some burning does occur other times of the year when fuel and weather conditions allow. Both pile burning and broadcast prescribed fire are possible throughout the year.

Broad public notification of site-specific burning will occur on the Forests’ Twitter and Facebook accounts. On-the-ground signage is often placed on adjacent roads for public notification.

In recent years, the two Forests have completed many management projects to improve forest health, reducing hazardous fuels generated from the bark beetle epidemic through harvest and hand thinning activities. Fuels remaining in these areas are typically gathered into piles either mechanically or by hand or scatted across the treatment unit.

Fire managers monitor weather forecasts several days prior to ignitions. Burns are only initiated within established parameters for safe, effective fires. Snow cover, precipitation, and available firefighter staffing are all considered before burning. Predicted weather needs to allow for safe burning and the elimination of any threat of fire spreading to surrounding vegetation.

Each prescribed burn planned by the Forests has gone through an environmental analysis and has a detailed burn plan developed in advance.

In 2022, the USDA Forest Service completed a 90-day nationwide operational pause and program review of protocols, decision support tools and practices related to the implementation of prescribed fire. This pause allowed time to identify and immediately implement program improvements to ensure firefighters have the resources, tools and support needed to safely carry out this important work. The lessons learned, driven by the best available science, have been incorporated into the Forests’ burn plans.

Smoke from all prescribed fires is closely monitored to ensure that conditions for smoke dispersal, developed in collaboration with the Colorado Air Pollution/Control Division and Wyoming Air Quality Division, are being met. These conditions reduce likelihood of undesired smoke impacts to public health.