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Purge this land!

Last Sunday the Martin family took another step in securing our small homestead: we had a prescribed burn in our woodlot.  The purpose was to kill young exotics, stimulate the nutrient cycle, jump start a natural process, and frankly burn stuff.  Smokey the Bear is a great marketing tool, but he has unwittingly contributed to huge forest fires by creating the idea of a fire regime as some horrible and cruel act of nature (or man) that is to be avoided like taxes.  Perhaps moreso.  Regular burns in natural areas helps to cut down on titanic conflagrations as they burn up combustible fuel that collects regularly in forests and other ecosystems.  Additionally, fire creates a check on invasive, opportunistic species (mostly plants) that are not fire adapted.  All in all, an occasional fire is a good thing.
     The first thing the crew did was prep the area.  This is accomplished by a quick survey and then blowing or raking leaf litter in to area to be burned, creating borders that should stop the fire from spreading.

After that, the fun begins.  The burners (I don't know what their actual title was) loaded up their water packs (able to hold 5 gallons), and moved out with their drip torches.  The wind direction was checked as well.  The flames themselves were started with a cheap, disposable Bic lighter.  It was a letdown.

 We requested a mid-afternoon time for the burn and this was heartily agreed upon, as (at least this time of year) the humidity is lower later in the day, thus helping to make the burn all that more successful.  It was amazing to see how little effort was required to get the blaze started (though some spots turned out to be quite burn-resistant--not enough fuel on the ground).
The burn started in the southeastern edge of our woodlot.

The wind cooperated, the smoke wasn't too bad, and the orange flames moved in a fairly predictable way.

Where are Beavis and Butthead when you need them?

The flames, with only a few exceptions were never more than a foot high.  Still, it was enough to kill plants and carbonize the detritus strewn about.  Beyond the spectacle, the point is to nurture a healthier landscape.

After sometime the smoke haunted the woods, sustaining an otherworldly feel on a beautiful, warm March Sunday afternoon.

The drip torch canister (a mix of diesel and gasoline) waits to be used again.

 The fire crept along the forest floor, not quite inexorably, but still, one wouldn't want to be a crawling insect being chased by this predator.
 The landscape looked somewhat ravaged after the fire had completed its work, but not as bad as one might expect.  There were still bits of green where the flames weren't quite hot enough to consume all.
 The best time to have a prescribed burn is in the spring before everything greens up, thus being full of water and harder to burn and before more sensitive species have sprouted or bloomed, and in the fall when the growing season is finished and the moisture content drops again.  A few wildflowers had begun to bloom in the unusual warming that was experienced by Michigan, but most were still dormant.  The anemone to the left are fire-adapted and would come back if burnt.

People used to call the process a controlled burn, but the term has changed to prescribed burn, because as good as we think we might be at mastering nature, we really can't control fire.

It's still too early to tell if this was a successful burn in terms of exotic eradication, but all in all, if was an interesting event to experience.  One usually doesn't get to tromp around in fiery woods.  My thanks to Appel Environmental Design for their expertise (and the good price).  Here's to less garlic mustard, autumn olive, dame's rocket, and swallow-wort.


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