During burn season, we never know what the weather will bring. We had a brief window yesterday (April 23, 2009) and managed to get in our final burns of the season. We burned two unusual prairie remnants that we have not been able to burn on a regular basis.
One remnant is an old abandoned quarry from which we had removed brush five or six years ago. This is a very dry site with only a thin soil layer, but little blue stem and a few other prairie plants had started to move in. (Fringed puccoon was in full flower a couple of years ago.)
At 6 AM the weather was not promising (red in the morning, sailors take warning), and we had a substantial shower around 9 AM. Obviously, we wouldn't be burning, so we went off and did other things. About 11 AM the weather made a major shift, the sky cleared, the humidity dropped to about 35%, and a brisk wind started to dry things off. We enjoyed a pleasant sunny lunch and decided to burn. With one-hour fuels, we felt a burn was worth a try. There were four of us, just enough to handle the burn.
The photo above shows the early stage of the quarry burn. Because we had no road access, control made use of two water backcans and a flapper. Everything burned well, and we had this burn done by 2 PM.
Our second burn was one we had never done before but were anxious to try. Our 3/4 mile of roadside along County Highway F is essentially a long narrow prairie/savanna remnant. This roadside had been periodically mowed by highway crews, but infrequent enough so that a lot of prairie species had remained. When we first started restoration, this roadside was our source for seeds of quite a few species, including arrow-leafed aster, golden Alexanders, great St. John's wort, stiff gentian, fringed loosestrife, Culver's root, elm-leafed goldenrod, yellow pimpernel, New Jersey tea, etc. etc. To encourage these species, we have been controlling brush (with the highway department's cooperation) for about 10 years. But we had never burned this roadside.
We thought a burn might be possible this year because we had a very success burn last fall in the oak woods just above the roadcut, so that we would not have to worry about fire from the roadside escaping up into the woods. But in order to be sure the woods were safe, and to protect the row of birch trees that thrive along the top of the road bank, we wetlined the top of the slope using the pumper unit on our truck.
I drove the truck and Kathie sat on the back and operated the hose. Heisley ran the drip torch and Marci used the pumper unit in our Kawasaki Mule for mop-up. The photo below shows the burn in progress.
In order to speed up the burn, Heisley lighted in strips at right angles to the road (essentially chevrons).
The roadside burned reasonably well, but we did have some "escapes" up into the woods. A lot of new leaves had come down during the winter, so there was substantial fuel in some areas. The fire moved from the roadside up into these woods and then started to spread as either a mild head or flank fire.
There was really no safety problem, but we spent about an hour putting these fires out. The pumper unit on the truck has 300 feet of hose, so we were able to reach any area that was burning. It took four of us on this work: Heisley operated the nozzle, Kathie was up in the woods guiding the hose, I fed the hose off the reel, and Marci operated the crank on the reel (the hardest job) to bring the hose back out of the woods. This was one of those jobs that really justifies a heavy-duty pumper unit.
We were able to put out all the smokers fairly quickly, also being helped by the increase in humidity that occurred late in the afternoon. The whole burn was finished by 5 PM.