BILLINGS – The Bureau of Land Management carried out the largest prescribed fire to date conducted by the BLM in Montana earlier this month.

Fire crews completed the 6,700-acre prescribed burn April 10 in the Tin Can Hill recreation area and on private ranch lands owned by Tim and Tom Browning located about 15 miles northeast of Winnett. The unit burned is one of 12 units in the area designated in the Musselshell Breaks Fuel Treatment Plan. Five of the units have been treated in previous years with prescribed burns, mechanical treatments or a combination of both.

The primary goal of the burn was to reduce hazardous fuel loads and return the area to its natural 35-year fire cycle. The prescribed fire also reduced density within the area’s tree stands and cut down on juniper and conifer encroachment on surrounding rangelands.

“We accomplished all of our objectives for this burn,” said Josh Barta, who served as the burn boss. “We want to reduce ladder fuels and conifer encroachment into the rangelands. If we are able to do that, then we can prevent an unnaturally severe wildfire from happening. In turn, that increases the safety of our firefighters.”

Wildfire suppression methods of the last century disrupted the natural 35-year fire cycle of the Tin Can Hill area, which has resulted in build-up of hazardous fuels.

The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation donated $30,000 to help fund the aerial ignition operation of the project. Once the spheres that look much like ping pong balls are dropped from a helicopter and hit the ground, a chemical activates and smolders until surrounding vegetation catches fire.

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