While burning may seem intimidating, with the right preparation and support burning is an enjoyable event that is an integral part in the native ecosystem. I’ll briefly describe the beginning steps in preparing for a prescribed burn. Further research and preparation is necessary before an actual burn is conducted.
Set a goal – The first thing that has to be determined is why you are going to burn. Burning a pasture just because you wanted to burn may have negative impacts on the grass. For example, burning fescue repeatedly will eventually degrade the fescue stand. Fescue is and introduced grass that has not evolved with fire. Native grass on the other hand has evolved with fire as part of its lifecycle. Burning fescue to reduce residue may be necessary to promote new growth, but will only be necessary every 10 years or so. Removing cedar trees may be another goal. In that case a summer or fall burn may be the best option.
Prepare the perimeter – The perimeter of the planned fire needs to be cleared to be able to contain and patrol any spot fires. It’s better to start a year ahead of time to install the firebreaks. A good rule of thumb is to make the firebreak 3 times the height of the fuel. The most common way to install a firebreak is to mow the grass. It’s a good idea to mow well ahead of the burn to allow the residue to breakdown before mowing again closer to the burn date if necessary. A bare ground firebreak will ensure no fire will creep across the firebreak. Another option is using a green firebreak. This would be used for burning native grass pasture. A firebreak of a cool season grass would be planted around the firebreak that way by the time it is time to burn native grass the cool season grass will be green and will not burn after it is mowed.
Plan the burn – One of the biggest considerations in conducting a burn are the amount of people available to help with the burn. Rural fire departments may be available to assist. Having the right equipment to fight fire is also critical. A big water tank may not always be handy, but if you and some neighbors pitch in for a shared water tank it will insure burning large areas much safer. Weather is another component in planning a burn and this includes wind. Be considerate to neighbors and always be cognitive of roads that may be covered by smoke.
Tip: To help reduce the amount of smoke try lighting many strip fires. This can be done by starting on the downwind side and lighting many small headfires.
It is always a good idea to light a backfire before the headfire is lit. The backfire acts as another barrier for the headfire to burn into. Smoke from the backfire will actually pull the smoke from the headfire creating a column of smoke. You can actually see the 2 fires pull each other into the middle. This helps with smoke management and spot fires.
If you have firebreaks in place and a burn plan you are already in the right direction for conducting a safe burn. In the event the fire does get out of control don’t be afraid to call 911. The fire department understands the important role fire plays and they understand even with proper preparation things sometimes go wrong.
For more information about prescribed burning visit your local USDA-NRCS office.
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