Frank J. Buchman

Cowboy • Horseman • Writer

Precautions Given When Conducting A Prescribed Prairie Burn

Whether ranchers will conduct a prescribed prairie burn this spring or after the growing season, advance preparations are key.

Several professional sources have provided important pieces of burning advice.

Weather is one of the biggest unknowns to factor in and to understand in terms of how certain conditions will affect plans.

Wind speed, relative humidity, and temperature can change unexpectedly and quickly on a planned burn day.

Monitor these conditions by the hour and keep in mind that:

Fire carries faster with a low relative humidity; 30 percent and lower is too low to conduct a burn.

Wind speed could be too low; no wind is a poor day for a burn. Instead, 15 to 20 miles per hour is a good, consistent level.

It is essential to be mindful of utility poles, plastic culverts, and fiber optics along the roads.

Grassland can generate a lot of smoke, so keep in mind where there are well-traveled roads in order to avoid causing low visibility.

Even a year in advance of an anticipated burn day, do regular mowing of fire breaks to manage the volume of thatch that could catch fire and cause problems later.

May 15 through August 1is generally nesting time for wildlife, and ranch managers should keep out of the prairie in order to preserve their habitat.

In a fall burn, plants will respond to the fire by producing more seeds and blooms, which will result in a better stand in the spring.

For a safe burn, the burn site should incorporate a change in vegetation, so the fire will not spread, called a fire break. This could be a ditch or road or a mowed strip along the prairie.

In addition, one pass with tillage equipment can add to the effectiveness of a burn break.

A fire break’s width is determined by the height of vegetation alongside it. The width should be three to four times the height.

For example, with six-foot-tall bluegrass, a 24-foot-wide burn break is required in order to avoid falling, burning vegetation.

If there is still concern about the width, mow an additional strip of prairie along the perimeter a heat reduction area so that falling plants have ever more space to fall.

Burning into the wind is a safe, controllable approach. Slow-moving fire will eat up more fuel because it will have a longer residence time in the vegetation.

Essential tools include cotton and leather clothes; leather gloves; goggles or sunglasses; two-way radios; backpack steel pump to create a wet line and manage spot fires;

Drip torch filled with one-part diesel, two parts gasoline; leaf blower moves the fuel; backup water source; water and snacks for the burning crew: rake, shovel, or other hand tools to tamp out spot fires.

Take caution and be careful in planning; a boring burn is a better burn.


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