Tom's Blog

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Great fall burn weather during Election Week

Because of Covid most of our spring burns were canceled (needlessly!). So it was a great boon that the first week of November (Election Week) the burn weather was outstanding!

We got three major burns done: Black Earth Rettenmund Prairie (one of Southern Wisconsin's best remnants) on November 6 , the North Woods at Pleasant Valley Conservancy on November 8 (a high-quality  oak woodland that is typically hard to burn), and Unit 19 at PVC that is a mixture of oak savanna and woodland that runs along the dolomite ridge.

The sun was shining virtually all week, the afternoon temperatures were generally in the 60's, and the Dew Point steady at 40 F.

This Post deals with the Rettenmund Prairie burn. Although the prairie burn went well, we had surprising mop-up problems from the residue of a recently harvested adjacent corn field. (The fire department had to be called!) A great learning experience!

Rettenmund is divided into three burn units, two of which are burned each year. (The unit not burned receives major brush control work.) This year we burned the North and South Units, but not the Saddle Unit in the middle. In October Kathie mowed a fire break at each end of the Saddle with the Kubota tractor. On the day of the burn, Chris blew the breaks debris-free with our heavy-duty Stihl leaf blower.  Another important break is the motor lane that goes completely around the N, S, and E side of the prairie. Kathie mowed that several times during the season and a final mowing when she did the fire breaks.

When Rettenmund Prairie was acquired by the Nature Conservancy in 1986, the goal was to acquire all the property bordering County F. Unfortunately, Bill Rettenmund kept a wide strip (the best agricultural land) that lies between County F and the prairie. This land, about 20 acres, follows the usual rotation of alfalfa and corn. This year it was in corn. Fortunately for us, the corn was harvested the day before we burned. The stubble was to be plowed into the soil later.

We knew we had to monitor the stubble for spot fires, but we had no previous experience with agricultural waste and fire. The corn stalks were really dry (it is a grass, after all). One crew member was assigned to spot-fire monitoring. This was a wise move since we had a small flare-up almost immediately.

Completion of North Unit burn. Firebreaks and Saddle in background. Corn stubble in foreground

Black Earth volunteer fire department put out the stubble fire in short order