Pfc. Ethan Wilkinson overlooks a wildfire from a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter, Aug. 19, 2020. Wilkinson served on a Bambi Bucket team, which delivered aerial water suppression, a key element during wild land fires. (Photo Credit: Spc. Erick Barnachia, 1st Air Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT HOOD, Texas - A chief priority for the Army is to ensure it has the right resources in the right place to support “readiness and modernization.”

For Soldiers assigned or deployed to here for training, maintaining that readiness posture often culminates at the post’s vast range complex where units exercise intense, warfighting maneuvers to ensure their combat proficiency on the battlefield.

Leaders there also recognize a possible hindrance to that training should a range have to be shut down as a result of wild land fires.

Not resigned to let that happen, garrison leaders converged at the installation’s emergency operations center for the Fort Hood Wild Land Firefighting ROC Drill, March 2, to coordinate prescribed burn strategies to ensure those ranges stay open.

According to Christopher Hoffman, chief, training division, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security, or DPTMS, the team’s interest and focus is to “collectively work at ways that can reduce the chance of wild land fires to maximize the training time for Soldiers during those high-risk months we have typically twice a year, during the cold weather time, January-February, and then July-August.”

Ricky Rounds, chief of operations, added that this is the fourth iteration of the annual ROC drill, and “it’s really a testament to the work that has gone into DPW (Directorate of Public Works), range and operations, DES (Directorate of Emergency Services), and getting a handle on our wild fire issues that we’ve had-primarily after the fire in 2018.”

To keep these fires in check, Rounds explained that there are a number of regulations and policy letters that outline how wild land firefighting should be conducted, including daily updates, weekly weather reports, “a pretty broad spectrum how this is laid out over the long term. The long term being seven to ten days.”

“We have a very proactive prescribed burn program, headed up by the environmental folks,” he said. “The idea is not to completely eliminate the fuel source, it’s to keep it manageable.”

Often misunderstood by communities outside the installation boundaries, prescribed burns are not undertaken just to degrade the air quality or cause havoc to the ecosystem.

Prescribed burning is a simple concept that depends on complex factors that are not always predictable; therefore there is always an element of risk associated when burning. That’s why each prescribed burn is heavily scrutinized and has to pass a rigorous approval process before any burning can begin.

That process begins with Virginia Sanders, prescribed fire program manager, DPW Environmental Division, Natural Resources Branch.

“I do all the coordination, the scheduling,” she said. “I come up with the priorities, but I do that in collaboration with range control and DES.

“We look at the fire frequency, the times since it has last burned. We look at where it is,” she said. “So, in live fire areas, because of the nature of military training, our target is to have a burn there, either a wild fire or prescribed burn every two years. Outside live fire, we use the ecosystem as our driving factor.”

Sanders explained that prescribed burns are planned according to the type of vegetation.

For grasslands, the team will want to conduct a prescribed burn every two to seven years; woodlands every four to ten; and scrub habitat, five to ten years.

In addition to vegetation, other considerations include: weather, environmental and fuel conditions for each burn such as wind, humidity, temperature, atmospheric stability and fuel moisture along with ongoing military training and proximity to Fort Hood’s geographic boundaries.

The planning, the coordination and the execution of prescribed burns ensures a sound and stable ecosystem, and a continued availability of training ranges so that Soldiers can maintain their combat readiness.

Events like the Fort Hood Wild Land Firefighting ROC Drill ensures all installation partners are in sync and ready to conduct that mission.

Notifications of upcoming prescribed burns are provided regularly by news releases throughout the season and also by following Facebook.com/FortHoodDPW and Facebook.com/USAGFortHood.