If you spot smoke on Fort Carson over the next month or so, it's probably a reason to smile.
The 135,000-acre installation is conducting prescribed burns over the next several weeks to rid training areas of dry grass that has been tinder for wildfires over the past year. Fires now, carefully managed, will avoid disasters next year.
"The prescribed burn program continues the installation's dedication to the preservation of the environment and wildland fire risk management in Colorado," Fort Carson said in a news release.
Last winter, Fort Carson's bone-dry training lands were a Disneyland for flames. Several smaller training fires preceded the 3,300-acre Carson Midway fire, which jumped Fort Carson's eastern fence and gutted three houses.
Military ranges are almost always a fire hazard because of how the Army trains. Fort Carson wants soldiers to head overseas after "tough, realistic" training at home. That means using real explosives and real bullets on the post south of Colorado Springs.
Normally, Fort Carson is able to keep the resulting fires to a minimum by burning off dead brush and grass every winter. With the fuel gone, training fires have no chance to grow. Last winter, though, Fort Carson's prescribed burn program was curtailed by weather. Over the fall and winter months, the post got just 6 inches of rain leaving grass ready to burn. That was complicated by near-constant high winds that accompanied the warm winter of 2017, making prescribed burns too dangerous.
Studies of the post training ranges show that every acre of ground is carrying as much as 6 tons of grass and brush that's ready to ignite.
With few prescribed burns, Fort Carson sought other methods to control flames, including cutting more than 100 miles of fire roads across the training ranges to slow the advance of wild fires.
Now, with rain in the forecast and relative calm, the burns can begin. And they will continue for weeks.
"Fort Carson Directorates of Emergency Services and Public Works Conservation Branch will conduct prescribed burns on various installation training areas Oct. 5 to Dec. 31, 2018," the post said in a news release.
The post has set up a hotline for community members concerned about the orchestrated flames.
"Concerned community members are encouraged to call Fort Carson at (719) 526-9849," the post said. "We take every concern very seriously and strive to address each in a timely and thoughtful manner."
This article is written by Tom Roeder from The Gazette (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.