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'Training Burns' Could Prevent Larger Fires In Sacramento

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

A fire near the American River Parkway Tuesday in Sacramento burned an area off Northgate Blvd. bordered by the railroad tracks and Highway 160.

Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

There have been numerous grass fires along the American River Parkway in Sacramento in recent years. Sacramento City and Metro Fire crews put out four different fires near the Parkway Tuesday.

But a "training burn" might have kept one of the fires much smaller.

The U.S. Forest Service uses "controlled burns" to reduce hazardous fuels and decrease the chances for hotter or extreme fires.

The Sacramento Fire Department has used "training burns" with the same intention. To reduce the potential spread of fires, the Department intentionally burns some sections along the Parkway to create fire breaks. 

Chris Harvey with the Sacramento Fire Department says training burns near Cal Expo earlier this summer helped keep a fire that broke out during the state fair from getting larger. 

"It was burning towards Cal Expo and the fair was open, it was while the fair was on, and these large areas that had been burned earlier in the summer acted as effective fire breaks," says Harvey.

0812EJ Parkway deer

 A deer runs toward the American River Wednesday in Sacramento, over an area burned by a fire Tuesday off Northgate Blvd. Andrew Nixon / Capital Public Radio

We walked over the largest of the Tuesday fires, off Northgate Blvd., bordered by railroad tracks, the American River and Highway 160. Harvey says the department wanted to do training burns here too.

But he says some neighborhood groups objected because of air quality concerns.

"Our training burns will be four-to-five acres and then we put them out and we move to the next four-to-five acres," says Harvey. "And so you have a much less of an impact on air quality than you do when it's burning uncontrolled, when you have great huge plumes of smoke that are going up and lasting the whole afternoon and into the evening." 

Harvey says the fire department takes steps to conduct the training burns to minimize the impact from smoke to neighborhoods and businesses.

"We try to do it earlier in the morning when the air quality is better if the humidity will allow for it," says Harvey. "So we definitely try and be sensitive to the needs of the constituents but it's something that we would like to do with increasing frequency because we see the benefits of being able to control the fire behavior later in the summer."

Harvey says the drought has increased conditions for extreme fire behavior or rapid spread of fire along the American River Parkway.

He says the causes of the most recent fires are under investigation.