Imagine if you will 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, as a well oiled, smooth running machine but 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 that are floating up in the air. With each passing second the risk of the fire escaping Camp Ripley grows.
This is a fear that runs through my mind each and every spring as the snow melts away 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 here 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.
I am often asked, “Why do you guys burn so much land out there at Camp Ripley?”
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 land 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 from the area.
All of these reasons flow right back into my first and foremost thought, safety. By conducting these burns we are protecting not only the health and well-being of the soldiers that train at Camp Ripley,the animals that live at Camp Ripley but also the neighbors of Camp Ripley.
Another 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 and 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.
Again, this all comes back to nothing at Camp Ripley is done without first ensuring that we are doing it safely.
Another question I get asked is, “Do these burns actually help prevent fires?”
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 of Minnesota 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.
While I do hear concerns about the amount of smoke generated by our hazard reduction burns and the fear that people have over them, be assured that we take several precautions before we burn. Also, we continuously monitor the process throughout and are always prepared to shut down a burn that we feel has the potential to cause a threat and we always have trained, certified personnel on site.
These burns are beneficial to our soldiers, our land, our training and even the animals that inhabit Camp Ripley.
My staff is currently in the planning process for conducting our burns for this spring and I ask you to continue to look for our announcements on when we will be burning. Safety is always my first concern and I again want to reassure our neighbors these burns will be conducted in the safest way possible.
COL. SCOTT ST. SAUVER is post commander at Camp Ripley.