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Prescribed Burn – A Test

Posted on March 24th, 2013

This week during spring break I have been able to spend a few days working at Old Man’s Timber on my timber stand improvement project.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I have been doing a lot of weed tree removal and some crop tree release.  Given the amount of understory weed trees, I have opted for burning the brush, rather than just leaving it lay.  I have tried to limit the burn piles by locating them centered in an area that extends to the distance my able-bodied volunteers are willing to drag the trees.  On Friday, Chad noticed a couple of ‘spot fires’ that had started in the leaf litter near the burn pile, which to me was a sign that prescribed burning may be close at hand.

Given the spot fires on Friday, the slowly drying conditions on the timber floor, forecasts for 12-15 mph winds from the ENE on Saturday and forecasted snow on Saturday night, I thought I would try a prescribed burn on Saturday afternoon.  With plenty of help lined up (Miechelle, Michael, Chad, Troy, Ali and a short visit from Steve, Mary and Eve), we started the burn in the Oak-Hickory stand, near the north-east corner of the ridge top area.  Although I have been burning for about 10 years on the small acreage around our house, and more recently a some CRP land that we own, I haven’t tackled a timber burn of this magnitude yet, so wanted to proceed cautiously.

Before starting the fire, it was clear the conditions were a bit sub-optimal, the leaf matter was still a little wet, the leaf cover would likely result in a light to moderate patchy burn, and the wind conditions were not as strong as forecasted, nor as constant in direction.  Clearly the heavy understory surrounding the TSI area was impacting the wind speed and direction. But with available help I thought I may as well give it a try.  Also, I want to point out, that given the weather conditions, and the definitive breaks that the valley draws provide, I opted for a head fire without a backburn.  I started a fireline near the NE corner of the ridgetop in an area that had been cleared.  As can be seen below the fire moved slowly through the understory with some patchiness which is to be expected for these conditions.

Timber Burn Started

Timber Burn Started

 

The resulting burn was quite patchy and would have benefited from drier conditions and stronger winds.  The photo below shows this area after the burn.

Results of Patchy Burn

Results of Patchy Burn

 

I tried a few adjacent areas to learn a bit more about how different conditions may impact the burn.  Most notably was a nice west facing slope that burned quite well.  I think the leaf matter and soils were drier because of the slope, and the natural convective winds helped move the fire up the slope.  This photo shows Michael starting the fire line near the base of the slope, using a propane back-pack torch.  The torch worked nice, it has a squeeze handle that conserves fuel while providing a solid flame to start the fire.

Michael Starting a Fire Line

Michael Starting a Fire Line

 

This slope burned very nicely, the fire advanced up the slope and the burn was much more consistent.  This year it will be especially interesting to see how the wildflowers respond to the burn along this sloping face.

Fire Moving Up West Facing Slope

Fire Moving Up West Facing Slope

Hillside Burn Looking Up

Fire Burning Up a West-Facing Slope

 

Woodland burning in the spring can be a bit of a challenge to hit the weather conditions just right before the timber comes to life with spring wildflowers.  After more snow this weekend, the weather forecast is for temperatures warming to the 50’s by the end of the week.  I will likely try another burn next weekend, if the conditions are better than yesterday.

As I often say in the laboratory:  “all experiments are good experiments”, even when the results are not exactly as expected.  Saturday was a good learning experience for me and will provide a valuable data point for future burns at Old Man’s Timber!

 

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