Tom's Blog

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Leaf blowers and prescribed burns

I've posted on leaf blowers before, but this deserves repeating.

One of the most useful pieces of equipment for prescribed burns is a heavy duty leaf blower. We have two and use them on every burn.

When we started doing prescribed burns about 20 years ago, the main tool to build a fire break was a hand rake. It’s hard for me to realize how primitive that was. To get a clean fire break it took a line of rakers, each following the one in front. This took a lot of time and three or four people. No wonder our burn units were so small!

After doing a primitive Internet search (no Google in those days!), I ran across a page where someone recommended using a leaf blower. For our third year of burns we rented a leaf blower, and never went back to a rake again. The following year we bought the largest leaf blower we could afford.

I’m not talking about those tiny leaf blowers that home owners use to clean their sidewalks. I mean a large, heavy duty leaf blower that pushes a lot of air. What is called a “Professional Blower”, the kind sold to landscaping professionals. The air velocity spec of the big Stihl leaf blowers ranges from 180 to 200 mph! Ours (Models 500 and 550) have what is called an Easy/Start feature.

Kathie says the blower should be powerful enough so that when you put it on full pressure you feel like you are getting ready to “take off” backwards! Some blowers have noise-reduction features but these are not necessary for use in rural areas. A good pair of ear muffs is fine.

Example of what a leaf blower can do on a fire break. This break is mowed several times during the growing season, and again just before the burn. Then a couple of passes with the leaf blower finishes the job. No danger of “creep” out of the burn unit! Photo from October 2014 oak woods burn.
Some people use a motorized lawn mower instead of a leaf blower. A riding lawn mower also works. These are fairly good as the first pass, but aren’t as efficient. Also, they don’t do a good job at the edges of the break. A riding mower was used for the first pass on the fire break shown here, followed up by two passes with the leaf blower (down and back).

Not only is a leaf blower essential for creating a good fire break, but it also has other uses on the fire line. It can be used for fire suppression in light fuels, and in mop-up operations, such as blowing smoldering material back into the black of a burn unit. We also use them to "fire-proof" around dead snags and other trees we want to protect.

Think fire, think spring!


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