Setting fires to help the environment

Photo courtesy Indiana Dunes National LakeshoreNational Park Service personnel keep a close eye on one of the past prescribed burns in the Dune Ridge area of the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

DUNE ACRES – While uncontrolled wildfires have ravaged large areas of the West this year, the National Park Service plans to set a few controlled fires in Northwest Indiana to protect the environment – if the weather cooperates.

The Park Service is planning five prescribed fires this fall in the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, with a total of about 1,233 acres scheduled to be burned.

"Fire is used as a tool for the park’s long-term restoration and hazard fuel reduction efforts," National Lakeshore spokesman Bruce Rowe said. The Lakeshore has been utilizing prescribed fire since 1986.

According to the NPS website, prescribed fires are used to manage vegetation, reduce hazardous fuel accumulations near developed areas, assist in the management of landscapes, restore natural woodlands, and for research purposes.

"These carefully planned and closely monitored fires remove accumulated dead plant material, significantly reducing the threat of unplanned wildland fires in and around the national lakeshore and the local communities. Prescribed fires also promote the growth of healthy native plants that support a variety of birds and animals found in the park, including the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly," a statement from the Park Service said.

The largest fire will be set in Porter County, on the south and east side of Dune Acres, where 543 acres will be burned as part of the Howes Prairie/Lupine Lane Prescribed Fire.

"This prescribed fire will help in creating a buffer to lower the threat of wildfire on the east side of Dune Acres," Rowe said. "By park staff intentionally burning the leaves, brush and other forest debris, there is less fuel on the ground for a wildfire to burn, resulting in decreased threat to the facility. Fire in this area is also essential in restoring the Oak Savanna prairie ecosystem."

In the Miller neighborhood of Gary in Lake County, two burns are planned along the Marquette Trail. The 299-acre Grand Boulevard Prescribed Fire will be south of the Marquette Trail from Grand Boulevard west to County Line Road. The Marquette Trail Prescribed Fire, about 37 acres, is planned for north of the trail, just east of the new Gary Middle School.

That fire was initially planned for last week, but weather did not cooperate.

"After waiting for things to warm up a bit, our test fire was not as successful as we had hoped," the Park Service posted on its Facebook page Wednesday. "The vegetation isn't burning well enough to justify burning all 304 acres today. We hope to try again in the next several weeks.

Closer to Michigan City, the NPS plans to burn 77 acres near Beverly Shores, in and around the Dunewood Campground, and another 277 acres at the north end of East State Park Road, near the Kemil Beach Parking lot.

"Clear management goals and objectives are established for each burn unit," Rowe said. "Before burning, a designated set of conditions must exist including ideal air temperature, wind speed and direction, and relative humidity. Weather conditions will be monitored throughout the duration of the burn to ensure the fire is completed safely."

The prescribed fire program at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is conducted by trained and experienced National Park Service fire personnel, he said.

"Smoke dispersal is a primary concern and park staff will do everything possible to limit smoke in the area by monitoring wind and atmospheric conditions prior to ignitions. However, smoke drifting in and around park lands and roadways is possible."

Porter County residents can sign up to receive prescribed fire notifications through the Alert Porter County system. Residents can sign up at smart911.com to receive a text message, email or voice message when fires are happening, or download the Smart911 app for your smartphone.

Fire activity is also detailed on the National Lakeshore's Facebook page.

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