SETTLING SMOKE: Living with prescribed burns

Smoke rises from a controlled burn near Lake Mary recently. (Jake Bacon/Arizona Daily Sun)

The forest floor crackles near Lake Mary as pine needles and dry grasses burn at the base of an enormous pine tree. Nearby, a stump erupts in a burst of flames. The slowly smoldering ground cover creates a thick blanket of smoke that hangs low between the trees.

A gentle wind slowly pushes the smoke across the Colorado Plateau toward the northeast — toward homes in the Lake Mary Meadows neighborhood and on to Harold Ranch, Heckethorn, Country Club and finally Cosnino.

It’s burn season across the forests of northern Arizona, and that means the sweet smell of scorched pine is once again drifting in the air, reminding residents that they live in the largest continuous ponderosa pine forest in the world.

Since prescribed fire was reintroduced to the Coconino National Forest in earnest in 1995, the U.S. Forest Service has burned 130,000 acres. And those efforts have been accompanied by burns from state and local fire districts throughout the region.

What was once controversial is now mainstream, as experts agree that burns are absolutely vital to protecting lives, property and forest. And most residents have learned to live with the smoke.

But for a small and vocal group of residents that oppose prescribed burns, the smoke is seen as air pollution — a health hazard to the sinuses and body.

“We still get calls every time we have a burn,” said Don Muise, fire staff officer for the Coconino National Forest.

Read more on the story here.