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Fort Ord BRAC conducts a successful Prescribed Burn

Oct 8, 2009

By Daniel K. Carpenter (Presidio of Monterey)

PRESIDIO OF MONTEREY, Calif. - Over 250 acres of vegetation were cleared Oct. 6 and 7 at Burn Unit 14 during a prescribed burn on the old impact area at the Former Fort Ord. The purpose of the fire was to clear vegetation so it will be safe for cleanup workers to remove unexploded munitions and explosives left over from when Fort Ord was an Army training center.

A prescribed burn is for a specific area that has been prepared by cutting fire breaks 200 feet wide and then watering them once the proper weather conditions appear.

The Army's Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Office is responsible for the planning, budgeting and conduct of prescribed burns and then the ordnance clearing that follows. It takes a lot of fire fighting assets to properly conduct a prescribed burn: a command and control helicopter, two fire-igniter helicopters and three fire-suppression helos; water trucks and wildland fire trucks; and ground igniter tools for fire fighters to use to ignite smaller patches of vegetation.

When conditions looked optimal over the weekend, the Army mobilized personnel and the necessary equipment for the prescribed burn. To verify the weather conditions at the site, a test burn was conducted; then the prescribed burn began with ignition of the maritime chaparral (plant community in the impact area) within Burn Unit 14.

The fire was started at 9:45 a.m. on October 6 but the ignition phase was shut down shortly afterwards at 11:15 a.m. because the weather factors had changed and were altering the direction of the smoke. Originally the burn phase was expected to last up to six hours but when it was halted, the fire fighting crew, which included six helicopters, quickly converted from lighting the fire to putting it out.

When the burn crews returned to the site the next day, their original intent was to clean up the vegetation that had failed to burn the day before. The unburned vegetation, some that had fuel on it but never ignited, cannot be left as it may ignite later after the crews have departed.

After an early start on Oct. 7 for the mopping up phase, conditions turned favorable and the crews were given the green light to finish the burn in Unit 14. By a few minutes after 10:00 a.m. the burn of Unit 14 was completed and the crews merely needed to do some house cleaning and monitoring for the rest of the day.

According to Gail Youngblood, director of Fort Ord's BRAC, "We're pleased with the way the prescribed burn went and are now preparing to remove the ordnance from the area."

If weather conditions allow, the Army still intends to conduct a prescribed burn at Burn Unit 19 this year. Over 5,000 acres in the Fort Ord Impact Area remain where vegetation must be removed over the next 8 to 10 years.

Youngblood said, "We will be watching the forecasts and continuing to monitor weather conditions. With the appropriate weather forecast, we will schedule a prescribed burn at our remaining burn unit."

The prescribed burn season runs through December 31, 2009.

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