Officials use controlled burning at Reservoir

BY JOSEPH BELK | MARCH 31, 2010 7:30 AM

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Controlled burning at the Coralville Reservoir began Tuesday in a joint effort between the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and the Army Corps of Engineers in preparation for Earth Day.

Controlled burns will be directed at invasive plant species, including Alliaria petiolata, or “garlic mustard,” said Brittney Green, an AmeriCorps media representative.

“It’s not native, and it takes over an area,” said Ryan Schlater, a fire specialist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “It will spread very rapidly, and it’s an invasive plant that will grow on top of other species.”

The plant has spread throughout most of the wooded area around the Reservoir, Green said.

Prescribed burns are an annual process done nationwide in part to clear away dead vegetation and mitigate forest fire risk, said spokesman Chris Whitley of the Environmental Protection Agency Region 7.

This is the first year AmeriCorps is doing a controlled burn at the Reservoir. The organization had to wait for the weather to dry up and officials hope to burn 60 acres before the end of April.

Schlater said he helped to train both members of AmeriCorps and the Corps of Engineers through a certification process, which includes basic firefighter training.

Controlled blazes should take numerous factors into account, Schlater added. High winds or temperatures can create dangerous situations. Every burn should have “a contingency plan in case the burn gets away,” he said.

The kindling of flames in certain areas was postponed on Tuesday because of high winds, Green said.
Despite the proactive applications of controlled fires, Whitley said, there are concerns.

“There are a whole host of issues that go along with prescribed burns,” he said, noting the creation of particulate matter — including small particles, dust, and ash — that pollutes the air.

In April 2009, dense smoke from controlled burns on the Flint Hills in Kansas spread to Kansas City and other nearby communities and lingered. Because there were wet conditions for much of the early spring, several private land owners had set land ablaze for beef cattle operations as soon as there were dry conditions.

“It was a pretty large domino effect,” said Jason Hartman, a fire-prevention specialist with the Kansas Forest Service.

However, Hartman said the dense smoke was not a result of the fires getting out of control.

“It was just a matter of the sheer volume of burns going on in the same day,” he said.

Kurt Levetzow, an environmental specialist senior with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, said the department will respond to smoke complaints, and he and some of his colleagues are trained twice a year to detect the density of smoke using only their vision.

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