By STEELE HAUGEN
CENTRAL OREGON DAILY NEWS
During the pandemic, prescribed burns weren’t happening through the Deschutes National Forest.
Deschutes National Forest Service said one reason they weren’t burning is to prevent the spread of COVID among firefighters.
The other reason: air quality.
“Lots of concern with putting smoke in the air during a pandemic that could have respiratory consequences for some folks,” said Alex Enna, prescribed fire program manager.
That pause caused a backlog in needed prescribed burns.
“We are not going to be able to catch up entirely, but if the weather windows line up and we don’t have an early start to the fire season, hopefully we will get those higher priority units done,” said Enna.
Wednesday was their first prescribed burn since fall 2019.
The agency has several burns scheduled.
“Those cross boundary burns in Shevlin Park, near the High Desert Museum, some burning in the Highway 97 corridor, near Sunriver and the westside of Bend,” said Enna.
Enna said when smoke is in the air, it means restoration and fire prevention are taking place.
“We need to make sure we are having that opportunity and taking that opportunity to conduct those prescribed burns so that we can do that good work on the ground and hopefully mediate those large fires that do happen,” Rob Newery, assistant fire management officer, said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, they burned 3,000 of the planned 1,000 acres of forest.
“It’s really essential for the health of the overall ecosystem that we are applying fire back in the landscape,” Newery said.
Weather permitted the burning will be completed by Friday.
Prescribed burning will continue through the spring.