Tom's Blog

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

First big burn of 2012

Yesterday (March 13, 2012) we spent all day doing burns. The weather cooperated, we had a great crew, and we got a lot done.

The fuel this spring is very heavy, guaranteeing quite "flashy" burns, so we had to alter our usual burn procedures. There are two reasons for the flashy fuel: 1) last year the growing conditions for prairie grass was very favorable; 2) there was no significant snow this past winter, so that the grasses did not get compressed as they usually do. Because of this condition, we did several passes with the Kubota at the edges of the fire breaks to reduce the tall grass and widen the breaks. The photo here (the Pocket Prairie ) shows how lush the grass was.

The morning of the first burn of the year is occupied with getting things ready. We had to install the pumper unit in the Kawasaki Mule, start our well, fill the pumper unit, fill all the backpack water cans and jugs, get all the water distributed, do a final "touch-up" of the fire breaks with leaf blowers, fill all the drip torches, etc. We weren't ready to burn until about 10:30 AM.

This delay was no problem because when we arrived at 9 AM the vegetation was pretty wet. However, the day was clear and a steady sun was in the forecast and we anticipated good burning conditions.

Although our main goal was to burn the whole south slope (prairie and bur oak savanna), we first burned two planted prairies, Toby's and Pocket, to get these very lush prairies out of the way. Because these burns were fairly straightforward, we split our crew and burned both prairies at the same time. The photo below shows the middle of the Pocket Prairie burn.

After a half-hour lunch break:
most of the crew climbed in the truck for the ride to the top of the ridge, with others catching rides in the two Kawasakis. By the time we reached the point of ignition the humidity was down in the 30s and the vegetation was nicely dry. The wind was out of the west at about 5 mph.

We have had a lot of experience over the past 15 years burning the south slope and our burn procedure has by now been well refined. I discussed in detail our fire breaks in a recent post.

Yesterday we started in the middle of the south slope, behind the Rocky Overlook, with two burn lines moving in opposite directions away from that point. The photo here shows Amanda in an early stage of this backburn. The newly created blackline can be seen in the background.

Once the initial blackline was established, a second drip torch on each burn line ran another strip about 50 feet below. These two lines quickly coalesced, creating an ever widening backburn that moved down the hill, as the photo below shows.
We also had another drip torch creating a further line below which we used only sparingly.

Everyone on the burn was kept informed of what was happening by two-way radio (we use Kenwoods). Although these radios are expensive, they are very essential on a burn such as this, because most people are out of sight of each other.

The south-slope burn (14 acres as measured by GIS) was finished at about 2:30 PM. Mop-up, which is often a major part of a savanna burn, was fortunately minimal. There was one tall dead snag that was smoking badly and had to be cut down. Any smoker that was fairly short and was well inside the burn unit was allowed to burn. A couple of crew members stayed on the burn to monitor problems, and the rest of us went down the ridge and got ready to do the wetland burn, which will be the topic of another post.



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