Prescribed burns at Creamers Field provide multiple benefits

Every year, Creamers Field and Wildlife Refuge conducts prescribed burns to help protect and stimulate life at the refuge.
Published: May. 18, 2023 at 5:48 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Every year, Creamers Field and Wildlife Refuge conducts prescribed burns to help protect and stimulate life at the refuge.

Prescribed burns are generally conducted as a means to provide controlled removal of highly flammable plant material that could cause wildfires later in the season. However, as dead and dry plant material is removed, other benefits are also generated.

When the old plant matter is burned away, it “heats up the soil” and provides new plants a better environment to grow in, said Mike Taras, a wildlife educator with the Department of Fish & Game. The removal of old plants and growth of new plants also makes the area less susceptible to wildfires. Focusing the burns to field areas is also highlighted by the risk of fire spreading as the tall grass spread flames fast even with a lack of wind.

Burning the fields is also more important to the purposes of the refuge. By burning the fields, the habitat remains more or less the same and is therefore more attractive to the migratory birds at Creamers Field. Without the burns, shrubs and trees would takeover the area returning it to a forest habitat. “Then we would lose the habitat for all the migratory birds that come through here and that’s one of the primary purposes of the Creamers Refuge and our agreement with the airport is to attract birds over here,” said Taras.

The agreement between the refuge and the airport is a combined effort to keep birds at the refuge and away from the airport. This objective is important to public safety as birds are a hazard for aerial transportation and is therefore a hazard to the public.

The firefighters that participate in the burn benefit from the operations as well. Most prescribed burns occur in the spring after break up, when left over plant matter is often very flammable. By handling those burns in the spring, firefighters can get a head start on the fire season, reducing the possible number of fires they may have to battle.

The spring time burns provide more than a head start on future fires. “That’s when we’re bringing in a lot of new firefighters and to be able to expose them to this and have them work alongside more seasoned firefighters in a very controlled situation, it’s a very good training opportunity,” said Sam Harrel, a public information officer with the Division of Forestry. These burns also give the seasoned firefighters a good opportunity to brush off the rust from the winter break.

This year, fire crews conducted burns in a back field on Echo Acres Drive. Approximately 37 acres were burned and multiple crews came together making up a personnel count of about 25.