Not all fire is bad. Controlled burning, according to the United States Forestry Service, is any fire intentionally ignited to meet specific land management objectives, such as to reduce flammable fuels, restore ecosystem health, recycle nutrients, or prepare an area for new trees or vegetation. Controlled burning is a management tool that when used under specifically controlled conditions will help land stewards manage forests and rangelands for multiple uses.
These fires burn at a relatively low temperature and are closely monitored so they don’t get out of control. Controlled fires are becoming more common as many landowners are now turning to controlled burns to improve the value of their property. If you’re thinking of conducting a controlled burn on your own property, here are some things to know before you get started.
Contrary to what we’ve been taught since elementary school, fire and forests aren’t always a bad combination. Fire can renew and reinvigorate the woods on your property by clearing underbrush such as dead trees, leaves and vegetation from the forest floor which will allow new plants to grow and healthy trees to flourish. They will also eliminate invasive and unwanted plants, promote wildflower and plant diversity and the will assist in breaking down and returning nutrients to the soil. Not to mention controlled burns can help diminish the amount of fuel in your woods and reduce your risks of a dangerous wildfire.
With all those benefits mentioned, you’re probably wondering how to get started conducting a controlled burn on your property. As with anything, planning is the first step. Plan where you’re going to burn on your property, how you’re going to do it and what are the benefits you’re wanting to see. Early spring is the best season to burn because it’s before everything gets green and the fire is able to consume dead plants before desirable vegetation has grown in. A well-controlled fire is burned when temperatures outside are between 40 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit with moderate humidity usually between 30% and 50%.
Next, you want to go to the site on your property and look it over. Take note of anything that may speed or slow the fire, any areas with lots of fuel, such as dead trees and leaves, and any areas that you don’t want to be burned. Also, take note of any smoke sensitive areas. If you have any close by neighbors, they may not want smoke blowing their way. After, write down locations where you want to create firebreaks. You can create a firebreak by mowing an area then wetting it (on the day you burn). Recruit three to four people to help you out. One to help set the fire and a couple to watch and then extinguish.
You’ve mapped out the areas you want to burn and recruited people to help you, now it’s time to make sure you have all the proper equipment and paperwork. You should have a sprayer that’s capable of spraying 125 pounds of pressure and at least an output of six gallons per second. Finally, it’s time to square away the paperwork that’s needed. In most places, you will need a state or local burning permit, and in some cases, you have to be certified. Plan to fulfill these requirements well in advance of your burn date.
Day of Burn
As the burn day draws near, keep an eye on the weather. If you see unstable weather such as strong winds and low humidity, reschedule the burn. Before beginning, go over your burn plan. Make sure everyone helping knows the plan and their roles. Go slow and stay vigilant. Don’t burn more than you or the people helping you can control. Once you're done, make sure even the smallest smolder is put out to prevent any catastrophic wildfires from forming.