Crews use 'helitorch' to execute prescribed burns in South Hills

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(KMVT/KSVT) - You might have noticed some smoke south of Twin Falls Thursday. That came from crews executing prescribed burns in the South Hills using a unique technique.

A helicopter fills up at the helipad, takes off, and releases globs of fuels all through a tool called a 'helitorch.'

"It's an aerial ignition device used by a helicopter to start controlled burns," described Michael Byers, supervisor with the Wasatch Helitack.

Fire authorities use it to get at hard to reach locations — like rugged terrain — and generate more heat and fire activity.

Early on, they ran into some problems.

"The propane — it's a propane assist — that's how it actually ignites. For some reason, it dropped to zero so we weren't getting an pressure from the bottle so we swapped the bottle out," said Byers.

Over 1,200 acres, crews created small fires to restore aspen trees in the long run.

During an interview, burn boss type 2 trainee with the U.S. Forest Service Paul Mitchell pointed out, "little yellow patches, strings of aspen and then the darker foliage — that's conifer trees that's started to make their way into those. They out compete the aspen but provide habitat for the animals that we want to have in this area."

I noticed that growth myself when looking at the area of the old Thompson Creek fire from five years ago.

"In those areas, the aspen is regenerating very well," explained Mitchell.

He told me conifers created an environment more prone to large flames without treatment.

"Instead of having several small fires that are low impact and beneficial to your environment, you have one big fire which is damaging meters into the soil. Its affecting biotic layers. Its affecting animals," he said.

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