CEDAR CITY — Southern Utahns are reporting pillars of smoke in the sky above Beaver, but the U.S. Forest Service said there’s no cause for alarm — the burning was planned.

Smoke billows from a prescribed burn near Beaver, Utah, Nov. 3, 2023 | Photo courtesy of April Jimenez, Cedar City News

Prescribed fires began in a 32,000-acre project area in the Beaver Ranger District’s Southwest Corner in the spring, according to a fact sheet shared by the forest service. The service plans to burn approximately 1,000-3,000 acres.

“Smaller areas will be targeted over several years, creating a mosaic pattern of burned and unburned vegetation,” the Forest Service said on the fact sheet. “Fire exclusion over time in this area has left abundant dead and down fuels, increasing the risk of high-severity wildfire.”

Thus far, 611 acres have been treated in the Beaver Ranger District, said Cory Norman, district fire management specialist.

Pinyon pines, juniper trees and sagebrush grow in lower elevations. Mid-t0-high elevations consist of brush mahogany, mixed conifers and quaking aspens.

This map shows the Beaver Ranger District’s prescribed fire project area | Image courtesy of the U.S. Forest Service, St. George News

The service said hopes to reduce fuel loads and minimize wildfire in the area, increase forage, stimulate aspen regeneration and “return fire to its natural role on the landscape.”

While there are currently no closures in the area, the interagency asks the general public to remain cautious and consider their safety and that of others, including fire crews, while traveling on forest routes, Norman said.

Work on the project has gone as expected, and no additional resources have been dispatched, he said.

“There is no cause for concern. … Smoke will continue to be visible throughout this fall until significant snowfall covers the ground,” Norman said. “And crews will continue to implement this project as long as objectives are being met and weather and fuel conditions are favorable. Smoke can be very deceiving, and there is the potential for future highly visible smoke columns from this project this fall.”

Prescribed burns are also underway in Fishlake National Forest for the Monroe Mountain Aspen Ecosystem Restoration Project.

The burns began last Friday and will continue until Sunday, Nov. 12. The work will encompass approximately 1,300 acres of aspen and conifer forest between Mud Lake and Washburn Basin near Signal Peak and 1,000 acres near Upper Box Creek Reservoir, according to an information sheet issued by the Central Utah Fire Interagency.

A fire burns near Beaver, Utah, Nov. 4, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Brittney Holyoak, Cedar City News

“The primary goal of this burn is to apply good fire to the fire-dependent aspen ecosystems in this area,” the fact sheet said. “Without fire, the aspen stands in this area will eventually die.”

The interagency will ignite fires when the work can be done safely and successfully, using frequent updates provided by the National Weather Service, the fact sheet reads.

“Recent precipitation and colder temperatures have created favorable conditions for burning,” Interagency said. “Public and firefighter safety is always the number one priority in prescribed fire operations.”

Richfield District Ranger said the interagency has burned 2,500 acres in the South Monroe and Signal Peak area since Friday, and work on these fires has also gone as expected. Smoke could be seen in the area until the first snowfall.

Project partners include the Bureau of Land Management, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands, and Utah’s Watershed Restoration Initiative. Additionally, the fire managers plan to dispatch a helicopter to assist.

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