HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Passers-by may have seen flames and smoke on the east side of the base April 27.
A team of base firefighters conducted a controlled burn on a small section of the Base Operations and Readiness Training Area.
Jeff Herriott, assistant fire chief, said the burn was prescribed by the base fire department in order to control overgrown vegetation on what’s known as the “rubble pile” where the department’s technical rescue program members and other partner emergency-services conduct training.
Herriott said the pile is intentionally set up to look like a building collapse or disaster area when in actuality, it’s a hidden series of pre-engineered tunnels, reinforced concrete vaults, drainage pipes and various areas of debris set up to challenge firefighters.
All these obstacles are put in place to simulate difficult recovery operations for urban search and rescue teams.
“This trainer is a great asset, but the overgrowth of weeds needs to be kept at a minimum in order for us to safely use it,” saidHerriott. “And as odd as it sounds for us to be starting these fires, the burns are actually a necessary part of the job and help keep us sharp with the variety of skills required for what we get paid to do.”
Cory Lingelbach, the captain in charge of the fire department’s wildland fire program, said prescribed burns are generally conducted in order to prevent larger, more destructive fires from occurring.
Depending on the size of the control area, the base must generally coordinate plans with the Air Force Wildland Fire Center at Eglin AFB, Fla., and receives local approval from state Divisions of Natural Resources, Forestry, Fire, State Lands and the Department of Environmental Quality.
Fire crews conduct only one or two burns a year at Hill AFB on average, Herriott said. The previous burn took place late last summer after the official summer fire season ended in order to clear remaining vegetation from some of the base’s fence lines.
In addition to regular position requirements, Herriot said some Hill AFB firefighters are also trained and certified through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group to conduct controlled burns, as well as to deploy in support of mutual aid operations locally and, if needed, on a regional level.
The next controlled burn is currently scheduled for mid-June when firefighters from Hill and three local support agencies will torch the grass in the middle of the runways in preparation the pyrotechnics display at the Warriors Over the Wasatch Air and Space Show June 23-24.
The dates for the controlled burn are weather dependent since they are only conducted under optimal conditions.