The onset of winter weather will permit prescribed burning operations to get underway in the San Bernardino National Forest, including areas north of Idyllwild and south of Lake Hemet, where hundreds of acres of overgrowth will be eliminated, the U.S. Forest Service announced Thursday.

According to the agency, this week’s storm and another one predicted for next week signal the start of the rainy season in Southern California, making controlled burns possible.

“Prescribed burning is an active forest-management activity that helps restore ecological functions to the forest,” USFS spokesman Zach Behrens said. “Fire has a natural role in coniferous regions of San Bernardino National Forest. Caused naturally by lightning, fire has long maintained the health of forests, clearing brush on the forest floor and releasing seeds from pine cones, among other natural processes.”

Several operations are planned Friday and Monday near Big Bear and Lake Arrowhead, officials said.

In Riverside County, a burn is also scheduled in the coming weeks around Pine Cove, where crews will deploy to open up the Westridge Fuel Break, torching roughly 190 acres so that the buffer remains intact, helping protect the mountain communities off state Route 243, according to the USFS.

Behrens said another controlled burn is slated for the area around Thomas Mountain, just south of Lake Hemet, in the Garner Valley.

Between 330 and 770 acres will likely be eliminated during the operation, which will rely on helicopters to ignite some of the vegetation, Behrens said.

He said firefighters will closely monitor all activity to ensure the flames don’t spread beyond established boundaries, and any changes in the weather don’t create undue public safety risks.

“Aggressive firefighting and development within the forest over the past century has allowed fuels to unnaturally build up,” according to a USFS statement. “That means an overabundance of flammable brush, which can enable wildfire in quickly spreading into the canopy and toward communities and infrastructure. Thinning forested areas helps protect such areas.”

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