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Minnesota National Guard
Your Turn: Controlled burns help keep us safe

Imagine a battery of soldiers conducting their annual training at Camp Ripley

They are on the firing line, the team leader is calling out commands, they are moving quickly, like a well-oiled machine Suddenly everything comes to a halt as the safety officer calls cease firing and stops everything

He spotted a fire that was sparked by one of their rounds, and the fire is quickly spreading across the impact area A breeze is making the fire spread even faster, and dry, dead grass is feeding the fire Smoke is filling the air and more fires are starting from the embers With each passing second the risk of the fire escaping Camp Ripley grows

This is a fear that runs through my mind every spring as the snow melts and things dry up at Camp Ripley This is also why Camp Ripley's Department of Public Works, Environmental Team and Fire Department conduct our hazard reduction and ecological burns

Safety is always the first and foremost thought on my mind, whether it is a single soldier or a battalion conducting operations at Camp Ripley Nothing is ever done without a proper risk assessment By conducting our burns each spring we are able to mitigate the risk of having uncontrolled fire on either our impact areas or a range, which could escape Camp Ripley's borders

Conducting yearly hazard reduction burns each spring is beneficial to Camp Ripley in many ways

First, it removes the dead grass and small underbrush that serves as a fuel source for wild fires Second, it reduces the amount of vegetation that grows on the airfield, which is typically used by birds that can pose a danger to aircraft Third, it allows us to enhance our native prairie lands and keep them from being encroached on by over growth Fourth, it protects our soldiers and it protects their training If we were to have an accidental fire start during a time period when we had several hundred soldiers down range there would be negative implications on their training but, more importantly, there would be severe safety concerns and we would have to evacuate them

A question I am often asked is, "What do you do at Camp Ripley to make sure these fires don't get out of control?"

There are several precautions that are taken to ensure that our fires are conducted in the safest possible way that we can First, our burn plans are researched, prepared and approved before we ever start a fire Our plans are also approved and kept on file with the Department of Natural Resources Second, weather is always checked before any fire is started and monitored throughout the burn If at any time conditions become unfavorable the fire is extinguished Third, we always ensure we have enough trained and certified personnel and equipment on hand to control the fire

By conducting the burns each spring we remove the fuels that will feed fires, which helps to keep them from starting as well During our summer training season in 2010 we had 16 reported accidental fires to our Range Control Office, which burned about 29 acres of land The state reported 528 fires, burning more that 133,000 acres This shows that across the state conditions were favorable for wild land fires but we were able to keep ours to minimal numbers

These burns are beneficial to our soldiers, our land, our training and even the animals that inhabit Camp Ripley My staff is in the planning process for conducting our burns for this spring, and I ask you to continue to look for our announcements Safety is always my first concern and I again want to reassure our neighbors these burns will be conducted in the safest way possible

Written by Col Scott St Sauver
Camp Ripley post commander
11:14 PM, Mar 25, 2011
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