STRAWBERRY -- Travelers along highway 50 through the Sierra have been greeted with flames and smoky conditions in recent days.
Those flames were not due to a wildfire but controlled burns.
They have been a common sight along a 22 mile stretch of Highway 50, a careful program burning forest fuels that U.S. Forest Service crews have been cutting and collecting for several years.
“This is a hand treatment, a hand treatment of cutting, piling and burning of vegetation to reduce fuel hazards around structures,” U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Sean Johnny said.
The project area along Highway 50 is a major transportation corridor leading up to Strawberry, where there are homes and businesses.
It’s also an area that has fallen victim to several big wildfires over the past 20 years, with more people moving into the forest all the time.
“People want to keep moving away from developed urban areas and as that happens there are an increase in structures fire-dependent ecosystems, so this kind of management is critical,” Johnny said.
Also critical is the timing of lighting brush piles that have been collected over the months. They can’t be burned during high-risk fire times of high wind, heat and low humidity.
Even on a calm Friday with a storm on the way, crews to constantly monitor the fires they set. Hose lines were put down to keep the flames low to prevent the fire from accidentally running wild.
“We’re trying to remove the ladder fuels so that the fire stays on the ground and not up into the canopy of the trees,” Johnny told FOX40.
Crews only have a small window of time when this work can be done safely. It didn’t help that the government shutdown came at a critical time when forest service workers were furloughed.
We did lose some windows so we’re trying to compensate,” Johnny said.
“A storm is expected to move in late Friday so that will hold up work for a time, but there is so much work left to do here work will undoubtedly start up again as weather allows.