The Burning Begins… by Fred Wooley

This unusually warm and snowless mid-winter has given Blue Heron Ministries a jump on our “spring” burn season for prescription fires. The main goal of fire, of course, is the ecological benefits it brings to native landscapes, checking back the non-natives and enhancing conditions for native plants to thrive. We also do it to clear the land of last year’s plants making it easier to spread seed or treat certain plants remaining with herbicide.

Blue Heron Ministries office meeting 2

The project boards in the Blue Heron office show about 40 prescribed burns hoping to get accomplished this spring. Getting the early jump has been helpful. While a skilled and trained team to do the actual burns is required, much work takes place before fire reaches the ground. Detailed burn plans for each individual burn considers overall objectives, then addresses the potential fuel, area size, local conditions, surrounding properties, the required crew size, resources and weather conditions needed to accomplish.


Beforehand, on site, fire breaks need to be constructed or updated to assist controlling the fire. When all preparations are said and done and permits are procurred, the sites to burn on a given day are determined if all parameters fall into the “prescriptions” to burn. Hence the name “prescribed fire.”

Peter Bauson taking temperatures and relative humidity

Even with all of the pre-work done, on-site,  day-of-burn conditions are still ascertained. Fuel conditions are studied and immediate weather condition are taken with wind speed and direction indicators, thermometer, and a sling psychrometer for determining relative humidity. It all has to be the right conditions.


When all is acceptable, the site is walked by the crew, site maps in hand, discussing the plan and what can be expected. When that is done, teams take their positions and the burn begins. The speed of work is determined by the immediate weather and how the fire is responding. Perfect conditions allow for steady progress. More difficult conditions take more time. Slow and steady for safety is always the key.


When complete, the burned area with crisp fire breaks, is a thing of beauty. We take a moment to take it in as we do our after action review and make notes of the fire behavior, how we handled developments during the burn, and what we might do differently next time.

Peter Bauson with flapper and Ben Aberle with drip torch lighting flank fire c

The real beauty though lies ahead when the plants and the landscape respond with new growth, flowers, and fruits. Watch for details of our demonstration burn coming up on Saturday, April 8, 2017.


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