Now that weather conditions are beginning to dry out, and warm up, Missoula-are land management agencies are scheduling their prescribed burns for the year.

And since the timing of the burns is weather-dependent, sometimes residents will be caught by surprise when they see a large column of smoke on the horizon. But the burns are all part of an effort to reduce the risk of uncontrolled wildfire by removing brush, and downed timber that can create a major hazard during fire season later in the summer.

The fires also lead to a healthier forest and improve wildlife habitat.

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The Bureau of Land Management's Missoula Field Office has some sizable burns planned for the Blackfoot River Corridor in the coming weeks, burning multiple units ranging in size from 40 acres all the way up to 650 acres. Those burns will take place between Johnsrud Park and Nine Mile Prairie.

Helicopters start fires using aerial ignition, or drip torches on the ground

“We will be looking at burning conditions as the snow recedes from the burn units,” noted Dan Poole, Fire Management Specialist with the Missoula Field Office. “We want to be prepared to make this important progress on our fuels treatment projects when weather conditions turn favorable.”  

BLM takes into account the smoke impacts from the prescribed burns, which can smolder for several days. And the agency works with air quality managers from the Missoula City-County Health Department and the Department of Environmental Quality to manage the impacts.

Montana DNRC also stands by for fire suppression as a precaution

Lolo National Forest is also planning to conduct multiple prescribed burns on several of its ranger districts as conditions allow in the next few weeks.

“Prescribed burning is an important tool in our toolbox to address hazardous fuels and improve overall forest health,” said Jeff Hayes, Lolo National Forest Fuels Specialist. “Over the coming weeks, we will be burning on days that maximize safety and minimize smoke impacts to restore healthy forest conditions.”

The trick with all the prescribed burns is to time them so crews can take advantage of the warmer conditions, but before there's too much "green up" and new vegetation.

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