Species get new opportunity after BLM’s Oxbow controlled burn in Moffat County
It was about a mile hike into the Oxbow area of Moffat County for a number of young wildland firefighters tasked with a controlled burning of state and Bureau of Land Management land on Monday.
After a short safety briefing by Burn Boss Brandon Voegtle and his trainee, Derrick Charpentier, the crew of about 20 strapped on their heavy packs, grabbed their tools, and started walking.
According to a May 8 news release, the controlled burn is one of two BLM will be conducting this month. The Oxbow fire was a 40-acre fire prescribed to remove years worth of dead cattails in a low-lying, marshy area.
“Cattails are primarily what we’re gonna burn,” Charpentier said.
Toni Toelle, a supervisory fire management specialist with BLM, was on hand to supervise as part of an ongoing dual role.
“In the summer season I put out fires and in the shoulder seasons I start fires,” she said.
Toelle has been helping train this fire season’s hotshot crew who she said are ready for action.
“We’ve had a pretty robust training season for all the guys, so we’re ready to shake it off and get to work,” Toelle said.
Though Monday’s prescribed burn is technically the real thing, the circular ridge that surrounds the 30-acre Oxbow area to be burned acted as an ideal training vantage point for more experienced wild land fire operators, their trainees, and Toelle, who watched wind and humidity conditions closely for crews down below.
After securing the area for any remaining wildlife or livestock and fixing at least one flat tire on an ATV, crews signaled they were ready to begin fire-setting.
That’s when Voegtle made a call to emergency dispatch to warn they were beginning their controlled burn.
Voegtle said it’s important for emergency dispatch to know the status of wildland firefighting assets at all times, especially during real wildfires.
“With wildfires, they track us everywhere,” Voegtle said of emergency dispatch.
Those above watched the wind as crews below began setting the dried, dead cattails ablaze. The slight south wind oxygenated each small blaze until the small fires spread across the charred floor marsh, sending flames and smoke high into the air.
When the burn is complete, habitat for myriad animals is expected to return, especially birds that frequently nest in the area.
“It just makes some better nesting habitat for the wild birds down there,” Voegtle said.
Some plant species are also subject to greener pastures now that the area has been burned.
“It gets to a point where there’s so much dead, the green stuff can’t shoot up,” Voegtle said.