TONASKET – Fire.
It’s the dirtiest of the four-letter words for many home owners, farmers, ranchers, recreation seekers and others across the dry, arid west.
It’s the summertime worst case scenario, an out-of-control blaze that eats up miles of forest, towns and homes.
But firefighters and others entrusted with protecting both the backcountry and private lands know that the best way to fight it is with another form of fire, a cleaner version, controlled by those around it.
“We’re emulating what Mother Nature would do,” said Tonasket District Ranger Mark Morris. “If Mother Nature’s happy, we’re happy.”
Last week, the Tonasket Ranger District of the Okanogan National Forest completed work on a 1,000 acre swath of the Upper Aeneas, lighting a fire by hand and chemical-infused ping-pong balls dropped from a helicopter.
But the flames are the result of a long effort in preparing the area for burning.
The Forest Service first arranged a commercial logging effort in the area to be burned, Morris said.
Commercial loggers remove small-diameter trees and logs, a boost for the economy. Once they’re done, the forest service continues to remove “ladder fuels” or the piles of discarded branches, weeds and brush deemed unusable by loggers. At this point, the forest is much less dense.