Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Control Burning AKA Prescribed Fires

I have to admit, I'm a little intimidated by fire. Perhaps this stems from childhood memories of my dad stuffing the Christmas tree into the fireplace piece by piece (who thought of creosote chimney fires back then?!) or the fact that my apartment/house burned down when I was 19 and I lost everything (thankfully I wasn't there at the time) or the afternoon our neighbor, Old Rufus, out in the middle of nowhere, Virginia,  decided to tie one on and light up a "control burn" in his fields, which very quickly became an "out of control burn!"  I remember looking outside and seeing this beautiful orange glow and thinking, "Huh, it's not sunset yet. Why is everything so orange?"  Then spending the next few hours beating out flames here and there all over the woods with Bob and the kids and all relatives and neighbors within a quarter mile radius  - Rufus was nowhere to be found.
   So today, as I drove down the road to the feed store and saw the smoke and acres of property on fire, I was enthralled and just had to stop and find out all I could about control burning. (especially since we have piles and piles of brush and downed trees and limbs all over our property waiting to be burned in the anticipation of one day enlarging our paddock and planting pasture)
 My new friend and neighbor, Mike, was as obliging as could be and allowed me to follow as he skirted the edges of his 8 acre burn.

Mike is retired Air Force and had periodically volunteered with the forestry service to battle wildfires in Washington State.  He began this burn by mowing a swath of grass to create a slight fire break. He then used a drip torch to start his fire. It uses a mixture of diesel fuel and gasoline: 4/1. He had checked the weather conditions, wind direction (no smoke is allowed to cross the road) and applied for a same day burn permit.

By the time I left I was totally enamored with this endeavor so later that afternoon  I called the Florida Forestry Service and spoke with Brian Goddin, head of the public information office and Wildfire Mitigation officer, and here's what I learned.
Prescribed fires are not the taboo I had thought they were. In actuality they are encouraged for several reasons
* a prescribed fire allows the the land to revert to it's natural, vegetative state.
* it prevents the underbrush and growth from amassing.
* it reduces the fuel that would allow a fire to burn out of control.

A prescribed fire actually mimics natural occurrences. Without intervention, wildfires would occur periodically every 3-5 years; 25% are started by lightening.  These cooler burning fires allow most plants and animals to rebound quickly and within 5-7 days vegetation will resprout and start to grow. A prescribed fire  recycles nutrients and raises the PH which allows rich, green growth to come back and consequently the new growth has the highest nutrient level of it's growing cycle which encourages animals to return to the area to feed.

I learned that in order to conduct a prescribed burn it is important to have the right weather conditions:
dry conditions
low humidity - between 30-55% is best
ideal temperatures - between 40-70 degrees
winds between 3-7 mph

 It is also necessary to have the proper fire suppressant equipment on hand. This somewhat vague description is left to the disgression of the landowner.

I stated earlier that on our property we have piles of brush and downed trees, and I found out that a landowner needs no authorization to burn a pile 8 foot in diameter or less. Anything larger requires a burn permit. It's always a good idea though, when planning to burn, to contact local fire agencies to make them aware of your burn plan so that the smoke from your fire does not cause alarm.

It is recommended that fires remain
* 25 ft from woods
* 25 ft from your home
* 50 ft from the nearest paved road
* 150 ft from neighbor's dwelling

 It was remarkable to watch the fire burn through strands of trees and leave them virtually unharmed.

  When I began this investigation I was quite intimidated by the idea of control burns, or prescribed fires, but now, after speaking with Brian, watching Mike and searching for information on-line, I've decided that Smokey the Bear and Bambi really did a number on me! I realize that with education, common sense and adherence to safety rules that fire can be a very good thing, and I think I'm ready to burn baby burn!

 For more information about Prescribed fires I highly recommend visiting the Florida Forestry website HERE.
They have a very interesting and informative video called Good Fire - well worth watching!

1 comment:

  1. I saw the aftermath of his burn, and was really impressed with how well he kept the property looks like an edging of bright green carpet all the way down the fence lines! And now I know how he did! I was certainly wondering! Thank you so much for posting this.