Firefighters across the Lolo National Forest will shift their focus from fighting fires to prescribed burning operations – an effort to reduce hazardous fuels, restore wildlife habitat, and better protect communities from future wildfires.

The agency on Monday said prescribed burning operations will only be conducted if conditions are favorable.

“We have been on the defensive all summer and now is the time of the year when we have the opportunity to be proactive and meet our forest-wide goals of reducing hazardous fuels in key areas near communities,” 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.”

Both underburning and pile burning will be conducted this fall in areas already treated to eliminate new debris and promote nutrient recycling in the soil. Underburning, a type of prescribed fire treatment, ignites vegetation under the forest canopy and focuses on the consumption of surface fuels.

Frequent, low-intensity fire is essential for improving habitat conditions, forest officials said.

Prescribed fires also help reduce the potential for crown fires by eliminating dead and diseased vegetation and ladder fuels. Ladder fuels provide an opportunity for a surface fire to move into the treetops. The resulting crown fires are much more difficult to control during wildfire responses.

Pending favorable conditions, the following prescribed burning operations could begin as soon as this week:

  • Missoula Ranger District: Ignition of up to 30 acres could begin as soon as Wednesday, Oct. 6, in the Pattee Canyon Maintenance project in the Larchcamp Loop area located four miles southeast of Missoula. Smoke may be visible from the Missoula Valley.
  • Seeley Lake Ranger District: Ignition of up to 60 acres in the East Colt Summit prescribed burn unit will begin Monday, Oct. 4. The unit is located 15 miles north of Seeley Lake. Ignition of more acres in this area could be ongoing throughout the week depending on progress, conditions, and smoke dispersal. Smoke may be visible from Seeley Lake, Holland Lake, Roveros Flats, and the Highway 83 corridor.
  • Ninemile Ranger District: Ignition of up to 92 acres in the McCormick Creek-Frenchtown Face prescribed burn units located ten miles north of Alberton could begin as soon as Monday, Oct. 4, and last through the rest of the week depending on progress and conditions. Smoke may be visible from the Ninemile Valley, McCormick Creek Drainage, the I-90 corridor between Missoula and Alberton. These prescribed burns are being implemented with partnership funding from the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Upland Game Bird Enhancement Program to improve wildlife habitat.
  • Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District: Ignition of up to 126 acres could begin as soon as Tuesday, Oct. 5, in the Clear Creek Drainage and Clear Creek timber harvest units located 2-6 miles southwest of Highway 200 and Thompson Falls. Prescribed burning will prepare the area for future planting activities. Smoke may be visible from Thompson Falls and the Prospect drainage.
  • Superior Ranger District: Ignition of up to 50 acres will begin on Monday, Oct. 4, in the Alpine Project along the Ninemile Divide, located seven miles east of Superior between the upper reaches of Lozo and First Creek.