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Preparing for the Prescribed Burn

United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Southern Region, February 1989; Technical Publication R8-TP 11.

Steps to Be Considered

Good preparation is the key to successful burning. It is essential in realizing maximum net benefits at acceptable cost. Preparation consists of all steps necessary in making the area ready for firing and of having all needed tools and equipment in operating order and ready to go. This preburn work is often done by a crew consisting of a leader, a tractor operator, and a cleanup person. The leader should be trained and experienced in prescribed fire.

Establishing a control line in heavy rough.

The job is to locate and establish control lines to best accomplish the objectives of the burning plan. To do this job skillfully, the leader must have personal knowledge or information available about:

  • Weather elements involved
  • Fire behavior
  • Smoke management
  • Amount and type of fuel on the area
  • Location of natural and manmade fire barriers
  • Degree of risk and hazard present
  • Burning technique and intensity of fire to be used
  • Burning objectives for the particular area
  • Restrictive measures dictated by law or local custom
  • Fire suppression safety
  • Location of any improvements which could be endangered
  • Areas within the prescribed unit that may need to be excluded from fire, such as:
    • areas with extreme mopup or breakover potential (sawdust piles, snags, etc.)
    • highly scenic areas
    • highly erodible areas
    • streamside zones
    • areas harboring special-quality wildlife or plant community habitat that would be damaged by fire
    • desirable hardwood areas
    • timber and grass areas susceptible to fire damage
Eddies caused by forest openings.

Convection and eddies for open areas.

All site-specific information should be included in the written prescription. Before starting work, the leader should inspect the area by walking over it and should give safety instructions to the crew.

Establishing Control Lines

  • Plow in advance of burning, preferably after leaf fall, to reduce effect of fallen material on prepared lines.
  • Use natural barriers such as streams, logging roads, or cultivated fields whenever possible.
  • Hold plowlines to a minimum, keeping them shallow and on the contour as much as possible in hilly country. Consider igniting from wet lines. Use skid trails and logging roads where feasible.
  • Keep control lines as straight as possible. Bend them around excluded areas, avoiding abrupt changes in direction.
  • Avoid rock outcrops and boggy ground.
  • Double or widen plow lines at hazardous places.
  • Subdivide large areas into logical I-day burning jobs.
  • Avoid leaving dense timber stands or heavy fuel pockets near lines.

After Plow Lines are Established

  • Remove any material above the line that could carry fire across the control line such as vines and overhanging brush.
  • Fall snags near line (inside and outside).
  • Construct water bars and leadoff ditches in steeper terrain to prevent soil erosion.
  • Seed and fertilize exposed soil on plow lines in steep topography to prevent soil erosion.

Burning-unit Map

  • Locate all control lines on the map noting any changes from the original plan.
  • Note on the map any danger spots along control lines having potential for fire escape.

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