Sunday, March 29, 2015

2015 Prescribed Fire in March

A burned out powerline can serve as a firebreak
With March being Prescribed Fire Awareness month I wanted to share about this past winter's burning season. Typically a prescribed fire season can be stretched out during cold weather days in winter, usually during the months of December, January and February. Certainly March can be an acceptable time to burn, but the spring green up can occur by late March and air temperatures can be hitting 80-degrees once again, and prescribed fire begins to transition from a cool season burn into a growing season burn.

Stringing fire via drip torch with equipment truck close by
Wind can be used with a backfire to keep smoke off roads
This is the second straight winter where normal precipitation returned to the Lowcountry after several years in a row of prolonged drought. Land managers have to deal with the conditions on the ground when it comes to prescribed fire and beginning with a 5-inch rain that occurred just before Thanksgiving, the woods almost everywhere remained too wet to burn all winter long. We got our firebreaks plowed before the wet weather, but they stayed too wet to revisit again all winter. One can set out some prescribed fire when it's wet, but it just won't go far when it encounters moist leaf litter and soil conditions. For those committed to a regular regime of controlled fire, this fire season's conditions called for patience while waiting for a good day to burn.

Mature pines with white smoke from cool burn
March did in fact begin to dry out just a bit, and temps did in fact reach the 80's for a couple of three-day warming trends. We accomplished our prescribed fire goals in March by watching the weather like a hawk, and then burning a much as possible during long days in the field. With the ground still moist, we found that a relatively cool fire was still occurring even though the air temperatures were rising. Where possible, we countered those conditions by using the wind to help carry the fire through woodlands that had thicker vegetation and needing something more than a backfire. On these warm days we were always mindful of the bottom of the day's humidity percentage in the afternoon, and when or if a seabreeze would appear and change the direction of the wind.

The practice of using controlled burns greatly reduces the threat of wildlife all year long, and each year will present differing conditions for managers to deal with. However, with experience a controlled burn can be conducted with success despite these variations. It's not always Prescribed Fire 101 out there, it's sometimes a trial and error process, just like other land management endeavors.

To view past blog entries about controlled burning click on Plowing Firebreaks - 2014 Dry Weather Fire Threat - SCDNR Prescribed Fire 2013 Prescribed Fire - 2012 Prescribed Fire 2009 Wildfire - 2009 Prescribed Fire Council

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