Searching for a cost-effective management tool to increase the natural resource value of your property?
Get back to basics with one of the earliest methods used by nature and man — fire.
Last month’s column discussed the benefits of integrating prescribed burning into your land management plan for forestry, wildlife and recreational use. This month’s column will cover a few burn basics every landowner should review in detail in order to utilize prescribed fire most effectively.
Your objectives determine the appropriate season to burn. Winter burning (November through March) is most desirable for reducing fuel, controlling hardwood growth in younger pine stands and halting the spread of brown spot needle blight.
Summer burns (June through October) may be more useful for controlling hardwoods in older pine stands. Late summer and early fall is also the ideal time to conduct site preparation burns.
Weather conditions will greatly influence the success of your burn. Surface fuels need to be dry enough to carry a fire, while soils need adequate moisture to prevent scorching.
Plan to burn several days after a rain, and aim for a relative humidity between 30 and 50 percent with moderate, steady winds (between 2 and 10 miles per hour in a stand) from the north or northwest.
Ideal air temperatures will vary depending on the season of the burn.
Burning responsibly requires an applied knowledge of fire behavior, suppression methods and fire effects. A written plan should be prepared beforehand by a professional such as a forester or certified prescribed burn manager.
This plan should provide the following information: burn objectives, necessary weather conditions, burning technique, season, time of day, equipment and manpower needs, expected fire behavior and a detailed map with the area location, number of acres, property lines, and established firelines.
Ensuring firelines are placed correctly is a key component to burn success. Create firelines using a tractor-plow unit or dozer and plow deep enough to expose mineral soil and wide enough to hold the fire.
Make use of existing natural and manmade features, keep plowed lines as straight as possible and avoid obstacles that could complicate the process.
Prior to burning, review your state’s laws regarding burning, obtain a permit if necessary, and notify adjacent landowners and local fire departments.
In order to minimize the impact of smoke, identify smoke-sensitive areas such as hospitals, airports, highways or working farms located downwind of or adjacent to the burn. Avoid burning if such an area is located within a half mile downwind of the burn.
Also, avoid having a burn that continues to smolder throughout the night when smoke settles on the ground, follows drainage patterns and mixes with fog, reducing visibility on roads and bridges.
Be sure your fire crew is trained properly and well supplied with equipment in good working order. That includes drip torches, an adequate supply of drip torch fuel, fire rakes, fire flaps, power saws and first aid materials.
After you review the burn plan with the crew, set a test fire to determine if fire behavior is what you anticipated in the prescription. Establish a downwind safety zone if necessary.
Next, instruct designated crew members to begin firing according to the burn plan while others patrol with suppression tools in case the fire behavior changes. Be aware of changing weather conditions that could create problems.
Check your area a few weeks post-burn to determine the degree of immediate success. Areas to consider include fuel consumption, hardwood kill and possible pine scorch. Continue to evaluate periodically, and plan future burns based on these results.
When used properly, prescribed fire can be a landowner’s most valuable tool for multiple-use forest management.