Fire Success Story in Uintas

Fire Success Story in Uintas

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John Hollenhorst ReportingWith all the scary wildfire headlines from California and with the government burn that ran wildly out of control near Heber a few weeks ago it's easy to overlook the good side of fire. But this week there was a wildfire success story in the High Uintas.

The U.S. Forest Service has taken heavy flack for deliberately setting that prescribed burn near Heber. But officials insist fire does have an important role to play. That's why they took a calculated risk in the High Uintas and decided not to fight a wildfire.

The fire started so small, ignited by lightning October First, that forest rangers didn't discover it until three weeks later. When it kicked up into a three-acre wildfire they decided it was the perfect candidate for a policy that's on the books but rarely used in Utah: Let a natural fire burn.

Michael Dudley/U.S. Forest Service: "You know, it's the right thing to do, it's the smart thing. You're putting fire back into the environment. And fire is part of the natural cycle where we live, in the west."

In the late 1900's the Forest Service began reversing 100 years of Smokey-The-Bear Management. Most experts now think it was a mistake to put out all fires. Forests became dangerously overgrown, overloaded with fuel, waiting to explode. So now in remote places, if conditions are favorable, they sometimes let a natural fire burn even though one forest official told us recent headlines made him pretty nervous.

Michael Dudley/U.S. Forest Service: "It probably makes a lot of people nervous. and as the results of what happened in Heber, it is impossible to predict with 100 percent accuracy that you'll never have any problems."

They say they don't just walk away and let it burn. They monitor it carefully.

Michael Dudley/U.S. Forest Service: "On a daily basis. And once a fire reaches a certain stage, you have to have a team in place. And quite often you’ll have a small contingent on the ground monitoring the fire itself."

As the blaze burned across 400 acres, winter closed in. The strategy paid off.

Michael Dudley/U.S. Forest Service: "It went great, it was successful. The snow has come in and has put it out. And it gives us that much more of a basis to get ready for next year."

That's 400 acres less fuel to worry about. Officials say they plan to do a lot more of this kind of thing. But they admit they need a strong track record of success in remote areas before doing it anywhere near human habitation.

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