After a four-month delay, conditions were just right on Monday, March 28 for us to begin our prescribed burn. A moderate East to West wind gently blew into the forest and across the open lands. Humidity, temperature, and atmospheric conditions in the target area were optimal. The Bison Trail was our burn block for the day.
Dozens of Forest Service employees, students, and volunteers from multiple organizations and agencies gathered at Land Between the Lakes’ well-equipped fire cache for a briefing. Leadership, old and new, laid out the plan. If everything went well, we would set alight almost 2,530 acres of the burn area.
Fire is traditionally discouraged in or near forests. Visions of wildfires raging in the American West rivet us almost every summer. These products of arson, accident or natural occurrence damage or destroy property and forests. Wildfires burn hot and consume almost everything in their path.
We prefer to use prescribed burns, which are much more controlled. It takes several months or longer to make a “burn plan” for a particular area. Once approved, the area is prepared days or weeks in advance. Crews move brush and vegetation and understand which conditions affect the burn.
The crews fanned out from our mission briefing in pickup trucks, fire engines, and utility vehicles. With clear instructions, we moved to assigned posts and positions. Once the fire boss’ message crackled over our radios, a carefully orchestrated operation began.
Everyone worked with a purpose and with safety in mind. We all observed a moment of silence for those who lost their lives or were injured just one year ago in Mississippi. That crew conducted a burn much like ours. Find out about the accident. http://www.usda.gov/wps/portal/usda/usdahome?contentid=2015/03/0083.xml
We used trails and roads to block the creeping fire’s steady advance. As it consumed dead leaves and grass, the areas formed buffer zones. These measures ensured the safety of nearby signs and heritage sites.
With all conditions met, a helicopter crew began carefully dispensing small incendiary capsules onto the burn area. Roughly the size of gumdrops, they applied fire to remote areas.
The billowing smoke reached high into the blue sky, headed up and out of the area. It dissipated in the atmosphere as it went. The goal is always to avoid air quality problems.
A visiting expert deployed equipment throughout the area. We used air quality monitors to record changes before, during and after the fire. Some locations he monitored were along the lake and near Murray, Kentucky. I’ll write more about this in another post.
With the burn almost complete, the helicopter flew back to its base followed shortly by the ground personnel. Tired and motivated crews gathered to discuss the day. We all captured lessons learned at the informal after action review. What could go better? What should we do next time? Before heading home, everyone had a chance to speak.
Within a few days, nature will reclaim the blackened area. Native grasses will break out of the soil. Wild turkeys and other species will use the new growth and plants as forage. A new restored habitat now has its chance. The land is reborn.
Check out this link to learn more about how fire improves wildlife habitat. http://content.ces.ncsu.edu/using-fire-to-improve-wildlife-habitat
Submitted by Joshua Frye, Public Affairs Specialist at Land Between The Lakes