The use of prescribed fire is an important part of any land and wildlife management plan. Controlled burns help reduce brush and undergrowth, while creating space to allow new, high protein green growth to sprout. This provides better grazing and forage for wildlife. When done in sections, landowners can have a mix of burned and unburned areas providing the optimum food and cover on their properties.
It is important to have a good plan in place before starting a controlled burn. The key to keeping your fire contained is the construction of a proper firebreak. Map out the area you intend to burn and decide where you want it to stop. The firebreak encircles the burn area and ensures the fire remains contained.
Terrain plays a part in your plan as well. It is best to construct your break on level ground if possible. This makes it easier to patrol the burn area and keep an eye on progress. If the intended burn area is on a slope, make the break as wide as possible at the top of the slope to keep updrafts from causing fire to jump the break.
A proper firebreak should be a minimum of 10 feet wide. This will keep the fire from jumping into an area you don’t intend to burn and getting out of control. A firebreak doesn’t need to be deep, but all duff and vegetation should be removed down to bare soil. Digging down 6 inches or more can cause a problem later on with erosion, especially on a slope, so don’t overdo it. Wider is better than deeper. Dead trees and other tall vegetation within the burn area that are close to the firebreak should be removed so they don’t ignite and blow embers across your break into the “no burn” zone.
A vital part of your plan includes a list of equipment you’ll need to have on hand during the burn. Water is a top priority. An ATV sprayer with a water tank gives you plenty of mobility to move around the fire line and put out any hot spots that come up. Extinguish burning snags or stumps as soon as possible. You don’t want lingering fires that need attention after the initial burn is over.
If possible, recruit plenty of manpower on burn day to help patrol the fire line. Fire rakes and shovels are good tools for putting out small spot fires. A tractor with a disc can make secondary break lines if necessary and, on a large burn, it may be worth having a bulldozer on hand. Drip torches are the safest and most efficient method of starting your fire. Torches are often available through your local conservation department or state forestry agency.
Once you’ve decided to add prescribed fire to your land management plan, you’ll need to take advantage of the various resources available to help you get started. State forestry agencies, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the NWTF all provide training on how to conduct a controlled burn. Landowners should seek to take any burning certifications offered by forestry agencies, such as the Certified Prescribed Fire Manager or Wildland Firefighter Training.
Some state forestry agencies will also provide controlled burning as a service, as well as private land management companies that will conduct them for a fee. Check with your local rural fire department. Often, they need training credits on fighting wildland fires, and they may help you with your burn. Even if they don’t, it’s a good idea to inform them of when you will be conducting your burn, so they can be prepared if things get out of hand