MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. - UPDATE 10/5/2017 4:20 p.m.:
You may have seen a massive column of smoke in the skies over the Monterey Peninsula on Thursday. That was the result of prescribed burns in Fort Ord.
More than 400 acres of Army and BLM-owned land in the northern portion of the national monument were burnt, to make the property safe for the BLM’s long-term management plan. They say the benefits are twofold.
“The main part is to remove the vegetation to make it safe for the unexploded ordinance technicians to locate and dispose of the unexploded hazards out there,” said Bill Collins, environmental coordinator for the Army BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) Office. “The secondary benefits is that it clears the vegetation and basically resets the plant community to the early succession. There's a lot of threatened and endangered species that require periodic fire and they will benefit from this."
Collins said the burn area is part of the older usage of Fort Ord, dating back to pre-World War II times. It may have munitions like mortars and 75mm shrapnel grounds underground.
Occasionally small blasts could be heard during the burn.
Preparations for the burn began in June and precautions were taken for the crews involved.
"(The fire was) ignited by aerial with helicopters primarily because of the explosive hazards that may still be on the ground,” Collins said. “So it's an aerial ignition, an aerial suppression but we do have ground resources surrounding the perimeter to maintain control inside the containment line."
The containment line is 100 yards wide. The surface was swept for munitions to make it safe for ground crews.
Collins said these are the first prescribed burns in four years.
"In 2014, there was not a need to do a burn because we had other areas to clean up,” Collins said. “But then 2015 and 2016, because of the wildfire seasons, the resources were not available to us because they were off on wildfires around the state. Then once they were released, it started raining so we kind of missed two years of burning."
And if the weather cooperates like it did on Thursday, more burns are planned near Laguna Seca.
Because smoke could become a problem for some, it is recommended that people close their winds and keep them closed through Friday morning. Officials also suggest staying inside as much as possible and limiting physical activity.
According to the Army, during previous burns, smoke was reported in the Highway 68 corridor and parts of Marina, Seaside, Monterey, Del Rey Oaks, Pacific Grove, Carmel, Pebble Beach and Carmel Valley.
If you see smoke coming from the Fort Ord area, do not be alarmed.
Helicopters and other equipment have prepared Fort Ord National Monument for a prescribed burn. Crews have burned 408 acres Thursday, which is a combination of Army and Bureau of Land Management property.
This is the first prescribed burn since 2013.
Fort Ord recreational users are reminded to note the following roads within the area will be closed during prescribed burn operations: Eucalyptus Road, Gigling Road (east of 8th Avenue), 8th Avenue Extension, Parker Flats Road, Parker Flats Cut-off, Watkins Gate Road, Barloy Canyon Road, and Hennekens Ranch Road. Access to the Fort Ord National Monument will be limited to the trailheads located off of Highway 68 (Badger Hills and Creekside Terrace Trailheads).
The Army plans a total of five prescribed burns on the former Fort Ord in 2017. The burn prescription was developed as part of the Army’s commitment to minimize the impact of prescribed burns to the local community.
The Army’s prescribed burns at Fort Ord are being conducted as part of the munitions cleanup program. Burns are conducted to both encourage recovery of endangered fire dependent plant species and to facilitate continued munitions clean-up. To protect sensitive species, the prescribed burn season is limited to summer and fall from July to December of each year.
KION's Mariana Hicks has the story at 5 and 6 p.m.