Tom's Blog

Friday, December 16, 2011

Indian summer burns

I am in the process of preparing an extended spreadsheet which includes all of the prescribed burns we have done since we first started in 1997. For each year I have a separate column for spring and fall. Most prairie people only burn in the spring, but there are some real advantages in doing woodland and savanna burns in the fall, and we have been doing these since our early days of restoration. (Our first woodland burn was on Hallowe'en in 1999.)

I have tried to keep careful notes of all our burns, and to a great extent I have been successful. Notes include maps of the proposed burn unit, a detailed narrative of each burn, a map of the results, and photos. In most cases, I have returned a day or two after the burn and walked the whole burn unit again, making notes and taking more photos.

The window for doing fall burns is narrower than that for spring burns, although fall is often more favorable. This is because woodlands are usually on the north-facing slopes, and snow hangs on longer in the spring. In fact, once the snow does melt, the spring flora comes up quickly. Burns at that time will set everything back.

The ideal weather for a fall burn is that delightful period called Indian summer. This is the warm spell that succeeds one or two hard freezes. The freezes help bring the oak leaves down, and the warm spell brings on a favorable temperature and low humidity. For instance, on the savanna burn we did 6 November 2004, the temperature at 2 PM was 75-78 F and the R.H. was 18-20%. There were no clouds and the air was clear and sunny. Ideal conditions for a burn! And we didn't need a permit!

Native Americans burned every autumn, waiting for that spell of warm weather when the fire would carry well.


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