Park Service burn first of six in 2014
By John Robbins Post-Tribune correspondent April 9, 2014 7:48PM
Fire crews ignite leaf litter along vacated road near Beverly Shores as part of Dune Ridge Trail prescribed fire. | John Robbins/For Sun-Times Media
Updated: April 9, 2014 9:37PM
BEVERLY SHORES — An unplanned shift in the wind forced National Park Service fire personnel to suspend a controlled burn for a short time Wednesday while conducting their first prescribed burn of the season.
Fire crews paused while weather conditions could be evaluated after smoke from the Dune Ridge Trail prescribed fire had started drifting over nearby U.S. 12. This was a possibility that Micah Bell, Fire Prevention and Education Specialist for the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, had hoped wouldn’t happen.
By Wednesday afternoon, fire crews were able to resume igniting the leaf litter. It might be five to 10 years before fire personnel will have to return for the next controlled burn, according to Bell.
Wednesday’s prescribed fire is one of six planned for the year. Park personnel plan for a total of 1,350 acres to be burned. Fires are also planned for Cowles Dune near Dune Acres, within the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk near Ogden Dunes, Miller Woods in Gary, an additional fire in Beverly Shores and a 190-acre parcel near Furnessville.
Having Lake Michigan within a stone’s throw from the fire complicated the weather picture Wednesday, said Bell. Because the water is still so cold, it keeps the air from heating up making it difficult to create the necessary uplift, which would take the smoke up and out over the lake.
Wednesday’s 262-acre parcel was a holdover from last year, when the weather wouldn’t cooperate, he said. Weather is just about the only variable that park service personnel can’t control when conducting drills.
The fire Wednesday, while planned, couldn’t be scheduled until Tuesday after evaluating the weather forecase. Weather is monitored during the fire, too.
“If conditions don’t meet the prescription, we’ll stop,” Bell said. “We would rather stop and start another day than put anybody at risk.”
The National Lakeshore has been conducting controlled burns since 1986. Since that time, Bell said no fires have gotten out of control.
Bell said that three primary goals for prescribed burns are to reduce accumulated forest floor litter to make a wild fire less likely, to mimic what nature would do by having periodic fires, and to improve plant and animal habitat.