What is a Prescribed Burn? A Prescribed or Controlled Burn is a planned and controlled fire. At Carillon Stonegate Pond, this controlled fire is used to burn down the vegetation around each pond and along the walking path. The most common types of controlled burns are “broadcast burning” and “pile burning”. Broadcast burning involves lighting multiple fires across a tract of land. Pile burning involves burning piles or stacks of vegetation individually. Pile burning can be used when conditions are not safe to set a larger “broadcast” fire.
What are the benefits? The primary benefit of a prescribed burn is to restore health to the surrounding ecosystems. Woodlands, prairies, and wetlands such as around Carillon Stonegate Pond are perfect natural environments for contained fires. Prescribed burns can control invasive plants and reduce insect populations. Improving the health of our environment also has direct effects on many our native animal species, including White-tail Deer and Eastern Cottontail Rabbit and for our birds such as Red-winged Blackbirds and American Goldfinches that nest or feed among the tallgrasses. The fire helps manage weeds and other growth and can help restore or return nutrients to the soil and help lead to more desirable plant growth in the future.
What are key elements of a Prescribed Burn plan? A prescribed burn plan is not required to obtain an open burning permit from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA); however, the creation of a prescribed burn plan is strongly recommended and a best practice. Key elements of such a plan may include: name and contact information of the property owner; physical description of the site location; fuel types to be burned; risk areas; distance to nearby structures; potentially effected wildlife; purpose of burn; burn day parameters (temperature, humidity, wind speed, wind direction, mixing height, flame length, rate of spread, and fuel moisture); burn dates (dates are often given a wide span due to finding a day that meets all the set parameters); tools; and list of crew members. There should be a “Go/No Go” Check List before the burn may take place. Finally, there should be a “Mop Up” Plan that describes the process used to ensure that the fire has been completely extinguished and any debris is removed when the burn is complete.
How are Prescribed Burns carried out? A Prescribed Burn will use a combination of safe burning techniques. A “Backing Fire” is often lit first to create a black line for the head fire to meet. The backing fire is generally lit against the wind at the point in which the head fire is desired to stop. A “Flank Fire” will burn from each side of the burn site toward the center and are often lit before the head fire. A “Head Fire” will be lit with the wind, causing intense heat with higher rates of spread. The “Head Fire” is lit after the backing and flank fires, which have created black lines of burn material.
What type of equipment is used? The professionals who carry out prescribed burns are well trained and keep safety top of mind. Their personal safety equipment will include fire retardant clothing, leather boots and gloves, goggles or a face shield and helmets. Respirators will be kept on-hand to protect against the inhalation of smoke and ash. And radios for communication are essential. Water sprayers and backpack pumps are used for targeted fire control. And there should always be a reserve tank on standby in case it is needed. The key tools used by the burn managers include drip torches, fire rakes, and fire swatters. A handheld drip torch, using a mixture of gasoline and diesel, provides a safe and targeted drizzle of fire for easy distribution in the designated area. A large fire rake can help cut and move small brush and litter away from the fire to prevent burning in unwanted areas. Fire swatters are used to smother small fires, such as in a “backing fire”. And shovels are used to suppress fires with dirt.
When are Prescribed Burns carried out? Prescribed Burns are primarily carried in Spring and fall. The spring burn season typically begins in early March and runs through mid April. Fall fires are typically conducted generally following the first killing frost.
What will the property look like after the burn? Most of the property will be blackened from the fire, typically down to the bare soil. In most cases, not all the vegetation or leaf litter will be consumed or even knocked down by the fire. This is perfectly normal and expected. These areas are beneficial for protecting insects, such as butterfly eggs, that cannot escape the fire.
For more information on Prescribed Burns and sources of information used in this blog (these are several of the sources that I am using to learn as I blog), please visit U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Smokey the Bear (who else!), National Geographic and Illinois EPA through Environmental Systems Research Institute.
The Carillon at Stonegate community is very fortunate to have a variety of wetland, forest and prairie environments conducive to a variety of birds and other wildlife, insects and plants. Our community and the Kane County Forest Preserve do an exceptional job in maintaining this natural environment – both for the benefit of the birds and wildlife and for our residents to enjoy.
Take a hike and see what you can find – and identify!