Driftwood piles being burned on frozen Pactola Lake

Burning piles on the frozen Lake Pactola.
Taken with my Droid cell phone a couple of hours after the piles were first ignited.

The driftwood piles at Pactola lake are being burned on top of the frozen lake surface. The six piles were ignited easily with a propane weed burner. I will post more pictures later.

Below is an update and better photos–taken with an actual camera.

Continue reading “Driftwood piles being burned on frozen Pactola Lake”

Is prescribed fire science still developing?

Last week the Secretary of the Department of Sustainability and Environment (DSE) in Victoria, Australia told the Royal Commission that is looking into last year’s Black Saturday fires that he would not support a 4 to 6 percent increase in prescribed burning, partly because the science was still developing.

But a seven-member panel made up of fire ecologists, CSIRO fire researcher Phil Cheney, and Jerry Williams, former Chief of the U. S. Forest Service, said there is plenty of science available to support burning 5 to 10 percent of Victoria’s forests each year.

Cheney said a good prescribed fire will stop a bushfire for one to two years, and after three years will have a “profound effect” in reducing the rate of spread. For as long as 20 years embers and flame height will be reduced.

Jerry Williams said prescribed fire had an effect even in extreme conditions.

A person might say the science of prescribed burning has been developing for many centuries since indigenous people began routinely setting prescribed fires to enhance the habitat for the plants and animals they needed for survival. In 1804 and 1805 Lewis and Clark documented the use of prescribed fire by native Americans (but at least one of them had an unfortunate result). At some point we have to admit that the science has reached a level of maturity.

Abraham Lincoln said:

Things may come to those who wait…but only the things left by those who hustle.

From the DSE’s Fire Ecology web page:

Fire is a natural part of the Australian environment and has been so for millions of years. Natural ignition (lightning) and indigenous burning practices have shaped our ecosystems over tens of thousands of years.

From Bill Gabbert, February 22, 2010:

Prescribed fire, when applied wisely by experienced fire management personnel, is an essential land management tool.

via @FireInfoGirl

Researchers study how prescribed fires affected Black Saturday fires

Research scientist Lachlan McCaw led a team that studied the effects that previous planned or unplanned fires had on the spread of the disastrous Black Saturday fires a year ago in Australia. Unsurprisingly, he concluded that the intensity was reduced and the areas provided anchor points for firefighters, but larger prescribed fires were more effective than small ones.

DUH. To many of us this is intuitive, but documenting this data can help to rebut the uninformed rants of those in Australia that are opposed to prescribed fires.

Here is an excerpt from a report in The Australian:

Dr McCaw said that across the areas burned on Black Saturday, there was no evidence that small-area fuel reduction had curbed the fires, but strong evidence of an impact where planned or unplanned burns had occurred within four years and over broad areas of more than 600ha.

Where the Kilmore fire, burning with great intensity about 3pm on Black Saturday, met a relatively small area of four-year-old growth, it was quickly outflanked.

About 6.30pm, when the fire met a 1600ha area burnt by wildfire in January 2006, it burned with low intensity.

Dr McCaw said the severity of the Beechworth fire on Black Saturday was reduced by burns that had been conducted one year, two years and four years previously, that had also provided “anchor points” for fire fighting.

Asked about the effectiveness of small “mosaic” burns that left areas of unburnt vegetation for biodiversity conservation, Dr McCaw said if the primary objective of planned burning was community protection, “you would have to be pursuing fairly high levels of fuel reduction”.

Military base uses prescribed fire prior to removing unexploded ordinance

Fort Ord prescribed fire helitorch
Contractors burn vegetation at Fort Ord in the fall of 2009. Photo: Chris Prescott, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Fort Ord, an Army base south of Monterey, California, (map) was closed in 1994. Since then the Army has been restoring portions of the base to a more natural condition. One of their toughest challenges is finding and removing inert and live ordnance in the impact areas which are covered in dense stands of brush, or in this case, “central maritime chaparral”, or CMC.

The ordnance removal teams can’t easily find the unexploded bombs and shells unless the brush is removed. They considered cutting it, but decided that a prescribed fire is the most environmentally friendly method when dealing with one of the last remaining stands of CMC in the state.

Contractors have been doing some of the burning as well as the burn planning. Barry Callenberger, the Principal of Wildland Rx, has been involved in the project. Barry used to work for the U.S. Forest Service on the Cleveland and Eldorado National Forests and in the Regional Office in California, until moving to the private sector in 1997 to work for North Tree Fire before forming his own company.

At least one burn, 500 acres in the fall of 2009, has already been conducted, and the Army plans to continue burning about 800 acres a year on portions of a 6,800-acre area of CMC.

Since 2001, ordnance specialists have removed unexploded ordnance from nearly 2,500 acres, finding over 12,000 unexploded ordnance items and 89,000 pounds of munitions debris.

I wonder if anyone receives hazard pay while working on these prescribed fires?

Via @FireInfoGirl

What are you doing for Prescribed Fire Awareness Week?

Who KNEW that the state of Georgia has designated the first full week of February, February 8-14 this year, as Prescribed Fire Awareness Week? Governor Sonny Perdue recognizes “this valuable tool for improving the health of Georgia’s 24 million acres of forest land”.

A little research uncovered other Prescribed Fire Awareness Weeks:

Florida: since 1997 it has been the second week in March.

North Carolina: had their first one, and possibly their last one, February 7-13, 2010. The Governor’s proclamation only designates a one-time event. Damn. And I missed it.

New York: The Nature Conservancy “celebrates Prescribed Fire Awareness MONTH in June” in the state of New York.

Do other states celebrate prescribed fire?

A rookie firefighter’s view of a season on a Fire Use Module

Joshua Berman has written books about foreign travel and living in Belize and Nicaragua, but when he took a job on the Whiskeytown Fire Use Module in northern California in 2003 it must have seemed to him that he had entered a world as foreign as those central American countries. In an article he wrote for a travel web site, Worldhum, he exaggerates and uses inflammatory language to describe life on a Fire Use Module as seen through the eyes of a rookie. It is a little disturbing to see the job described this way, but judge for yourself. Here is the beginning of the article:

Joshua Berman spent a glorious summer exploring some of America’s most beautiful wilderness areas — with a drip torch in hand.

That summer, my job was to burn, to lay flame across the earth and watch some of America’s most remote and spectacular wildernesses go up in columns of black. It was beautiful.

“Burn all, burn everything. Fire is bright and fire is clean,” wrote Ray Bradbury.

But instead of destroying books with flamethrowers, as the futuristic firemen of “Fahrenheit 451” did, our job was to burn forests. Mostly, we used drip torches—heavy, metal cans with crudely soldered handles. These were the tools of choice for manual ignition, clutched in leather gloves, diesel-mix sloshing inside. When the terrain didn’t favor torches—when the fuel (trees, brush, and grass) was patchy, or farther than arm’s length away—we had other methods. We dropped ping-pong balls of napalm from helicopters, set off small bombs in thickets of brush, and shot flaming disks from pistols.

As if none of this was fun enough, we were also mobile, making that fire season one of the most memorable (and lucrative) traveling summers of my life. I worked for the National Park Service, roaming from parkland to parkland, charting our success by numbers of acres burned and number of overtime and hazard-pay hours earned. Not much else mattered. The kicker was, for most wildland firefighters I knew, that money saved in fire season was money spent soon after—usually on travel—when our jobs ended in late fall.

But first, we burned. The idea was, the more land burned, the less fuel there was to go up later. In essence, we were fighting future fires by beating them to the punch. With each new record-setting blaze burning out of control on the nightly news, we learned that treating fire as an invasive, evil force instead of a restorative one, and trying to completely exclude it from our wildlands, was an unnatural, impossible, and ultimately disastrous approach.

On a related note:

–In 2008 the Whiskeytown Fire Use Module’s office was threatened by the Motion Fire when it burned into Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, but previous fuel treatments resulted in lower fire intensities near the structure, making it possible to conduct a safe and controlled burn-out.

–Someone calling himself “duckvariety” is trying to sell a “Whiskeytown Prescribed Fire Module” patch on Ebay. Is that legal? I know, for example, it is illegal to sell uniforms with the National Park Service patch.