Burning up Cape Cod (Prescribed burns 1 and 2)
Despite this past fall being uncommonly wet (though far from dreary), we did manage to help with a few prescribed burns on the Cape Cod National Seashore. The first, our training burn, took place on a set of research plots one of our managers has been maintaining since the late 80’s.
Plots in this area are either burned or mowed at different intervals. We were starting burns on two of the shorter interval burn plots. Both were small burns, as these things go, neither more than 1/10th of an acre. Even so, our boss from the Seashore kept us in full firefighting kit the entire time.
For this small burn we started by making a scratch line — a thin strip without potential fuel in it — around the edges of the burn area using rakes. Then half of us crossed back and forth within the burn area using drip torches to light parallel lines of fire on the forest floor while the other half patrolled the scratch line with backpack pumps dowsing the flames as they reached the edge.
Drip torches (the metal canisters on the ground in the picture above) are carried at arms length and lay down a line of burning gasoline and diesel fuel. On this particular burn, having a consistent source of ignition was useful, both because of our inexperience and because the dappled shade and low fuel load at the site made it more likely that we wouldn’t be able to get a complete burn on the plot.
The affect of sunlight on fire was something I was under-aware of prior to coming to Cape Cod. The effect was particularly noticeable on this burn, where burning fuel in the shade simply wouldn’t spread as far as that which was spilled in the sun.
Because these plots had been burned so frequently, every other year in fact, there wasn’t much fuel on the ground. The flames from the fires we started here never grew to be more than about a foot. We mopped up using backpack pumps, making sure that there wasn’t so much as a whisper of smoke still emanating from the ground before we packed in for the day.