"SALEM, Ore. — Wearing soot-smudged, fire-resistant clothing and helmets, several wildland firefighters armed with hoes moved through a stand of ponderosa pines as flames tore through the underbrush.
The firefighters weren’t there to extinguish the fire. They had started it.
The prescribed burn, ignited this month near the scenic mountain town of Bend, is part of a massive effort in wildlands across the U.S. West to prepare for a fire season that’s expected to be even worse than last year′s record-shattering one.
The U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management have thinned by hand, machines and prescribed burns about 1.8 million acres (728,000 hectares) of forest and brushland since last season, officials from the agencies told The Associated Press. They typically treat some 3 million (1.2 million hectares) acres every year.
All that activity, though, has barely scratched the surface. The federal government owns roughly 640 million acres (260 million hectares) in the U.S. All but 4% of it lies in the West, including Alaska, with some of it unsuitable for prescribed burning."