With the arrival of favorable weather conditions, the U.S. Forest Service has begun its winter prescribed burn program throughout the San Bernardino National Forest. The prescribed fire program will continue through the winter months as weather and conditions permit.

Burning has already begun on the San Jacinto Ranger District. Work near Lawler Lodge is nearly complete, according to District Fire Chief Dan Felix.

“There were some tough spots there, but we took advantage of the first showers,” Felix said.

The ignition of all prescribed burns is dependent on the availability of personnel and equipment, appropriate conditions, and coordination with the National Weather Service and South Coast Air Quality Management District. This occurs before and during prescribed burns in order to manage smoke production and minimize impacts as much as possible.

“Prescribed fires are ignited only when both weather and fuel conditions exist that will ensure low to moderate burning rates and firefighting resources are available to keep fires within fire lines,” said Forest Service Fire Chief Jaime Gamboa.

In the San Jacinto Ranger District, the Forest Service plans to ignite burns whenever the weather creates an opportunity for safe burns. Near Idyllwild, along the South Ridge, West Ridge and Strawberry Fuelbreak, residents should expect to see smoke from pile burns later this month.

“These all are places we have burned before and are not any more risky or problematic. Any time we’re outside people’s homes, we want to let them know,” Felix said. “If we get good weather conditions, we need to take advantage of these opportunities. The weather models suggest we may have more opportunities coming up this week.”

Other areas where burning is planned include:

1) near Lake Hemet, north of Highway 74 as part of the on-going Bonita Vista fuels reduction project;

2) near Saunders Meadow Road and Highway 243, Lawler Lodge and 243; and

3) near various fire stations — some slash and pile burning.

“We have a lot piles to burn near Keenwild, but that’s not our highest priority,” Felix said.

Burns also are planned in the San Bernardino and San Gabriel mountains of the SBNF.

San Jacinto Fire staff are preparing a work plan for some understory and reforestation burns in the Thomas Mountain area if weather permits later this winter. However, Felix cautioned that fire managers follow a burn plan that outlines the “prescription” or environmental conditions such as temperature, wind, fuel moisture, ventilation and relative humidity that need to be present before the project begins. When the criteria are met, crews implement, monitor and patrol each burn to ensure it meets the goals and objectives outlined by managers.

Prescribed fires and pile burning are intended to reduce the amount of vegetation — such as needles, small plants, brush and small trees — that can carry fire from the forest floor into the treetops.

Studies and experience have shown that prescribed fires will stimulate the growth of grasses, forbs and shrubs that provide food for deer, mountain quail and other wildlife.

“We are sensitive to the fact that smoke has an impact on people, particularly those with respiratory conditions and allergies,” said Gamboa. “Every effort is made to ignite prescribed fires when weather patterns will carry smoke away from populated areas.”

Firefighters will be burning slash and debris piles adjacent to Forest Service fire stations. Signs will be posted along the roadways to alert travelers to the burning activity.

The Forest Service invites the public to call its local offices to find out where burning may be scheduled. On the Hill, people may call the Idyllwild Ranger Station at 909-382-2922 or the Santa Rosa and San Jacinto Mountains National Monument at 760-862-9984.