Monthly Archives: March 2013

Doane Rock: Prescribed Burn 5

Our fifth prescribed burn took place in the afternoon of the same day we conducted our fourth. Tactically, it was considerably more involved than the burn in the morning. Again, we split into two groups and walked the two flanks of the burn area laying down boxes of flame in tandem. However, this time we also lit point ignitions in the interior of the burn area. This strategy, coupled with our use of a backing fire throughout the burn, led to a much more complete burn than we achieved earlier in the day.

Our flank of the burn area. Like the first burn of the day we spread the flame by making consecutive rectangles of fire. Each rectangle, once its center had burned out, contributed to the line of black earth insulating the active fire from the area we did not intend to burn.

Our flank of the burn area. Like the first burn of the day we spread the flame by making consecutive rectangles of fire. Each rectangle, once its center had burned out, contributed to the line of black earth insulating the active fire from the area we did not intend to burn.

It was remarkable to me how efficient “drawing” the rectangles on the ground with the drip torch was at creating a solid black perimeter. Once the rectangle is drawn the heat from the flames causes the air in its center to rise quickly, air from outside the rectangle then blows in to fill the space. This constant inwards wind creates head-fires all around the rectangle. As I may have mentioned, head fires (fires in which the flames are bent over unburned fuels) burn faster (though less completely) than backing fires. Since the rectangle strategy creates a ring of head-fires, it creates the desired black perimeter faster than the alternative.

The slowly advancing flame front was carefully guided around the botanical signposts within the burn site.

The slowly advancing flame front was carefully guided around the botanical signposts within the burn site.

The alternative to the rectangle strategy is simply lighting a long line of fire using the drip torch. On the one hand you use less than half the fuel, but on the other it doesn’t burn nearly as quickly (nor, in my incredibly limited experience, so well).

This is what our flank of the burn looked like after the fires had been put completely out. This burn, because we relied on a backing fire rather than a head fire, removed more of the fuel (the dead wood, leaves, and flammable loam) than the first fire of the day did.

This is what our flank of the burn looked like after the fires had been put completely out. This burn, because we relied on a backing fire rather than a head fire, removed more of the fuel (the dead wood, leaves, and flammable loam) than the first fire of the day did.

Hopefully, now that Winter is gone (at least as far as the calendar is concerned) we’ll be able to do more of this, it beats the snot out of shoveling.

More than just a pile: Prescribed Burn 4

As I’ve waxed more than  is probably necessary about in the past few posts, we’ve been in a bit of a work-rut lately. The truth of the matter is that wintertime is when burning piles makes the most sense and so we took advantage of the often snow-covered ground as much as we were able. Making and burning piles every day had a few notable advantages, it gave those of us who needed it (myself very much included) ample time to practice using and maintaining our chainsaws, it allowed us to stay warm while being fantastically productive during the cold winter months, and it made me pretty much impervious to the smell of own hair burning. Take that last one as you will.

At any rate, although there are plenty of great things about burning piles, it really just isn’t the same as helping with a proper prescribed burn, so when I found out that we’d be returning to that sort of job today I was thrilled.

After collecting everything we’d need for the day and donning an extra layer of protective gear (beyond what we wore every day this winter) We traveled to the Doane Rock area in Eastham to await our exact destination and final instructions. It turns out that the Cape Cod National seashore has more than a few burn plots already established in that area, and we weren’t sure exactly where we’d be working first.
Once we established our objective (and walked around the perimeter as a group) we split into two teams and began using drip torches to burn strips along the outer edge of the flanks, progressing around the burn area in tandem until we met again on the other side of the field. Each strip started out as a 2 by 10-20 foot rectangle placed in such a way that the fire was encouraged to burn inwards towards the center of the plot while leaving a solid line of nonflammable black ground in its wake.

One of the strips we lit. This section of the plot had a fairly solid canopy, despite the lack of leaves on the trees, without as much sun on the ground the flames here were a bit smaller and we ended up using more fuel than we'd planned to keep things moving.

One of the strips we lit. This section of the plot had a fairly solid canopy, despite the lack of leaves on the trees, without as much sun on the ground the flames here were a bit smaller and we ended up using more fuel than we’d planned to keep things moving.

Here we are at the far side of the burn plot from where we started, at this point we'd just met up with the other team and were watching the fire work it way into the center of the plot.

Here we are at the far side of the burn plot from where we started, at this point we’d just met up with the other team and were watching the fire work it way into the center of the plot. The black layer coating the hillside is made up of burned up material, which is (obviously) naturally fire-resistant.

I'm slowly accepting the fact that I'm not going to get many fantastic fire pictures (especially not with a cell phone camera). This is an attempt at getting a shot at the advancing flame front.

I’m slowly accepting the fact that I’m not going to get many fantastic fire pictures (especially not with a cell phone camera). This is an attempt at getting a shot at the flame front during a moment when I was out of the smoke and without an immediate task.

As the strips burned inwards we extinguished the flames that edged out of the boundaries we’d established during our pre-burn perimeter walk. Eventually, the fronts progressing from each flank met each other in the center of the plot and (with all the fuel in the area consumed) petered out without much further interference from us. The whole process (from the perimeter walk to the last wisp of smoke) took a few hours, though it certainly felt shorter.

Finally, here the vast majority of the fire is out.

Finally, here the vast majority of the fire is out.

From here we moved on to a second burn, but I’ll save those pictures for later.

A whole lot of the same thing

Each day is a little warmer than the last, and now that the clocks have sprung past Daylight Saving time yet again there’s actually a decent amount of light left after the workday is over. The flip side is that unfortunately, its back to being utterly black out when I wake up in the morning. Our service with the National Seashore has remained, unlike the light levels, pretty much static over the past few weeks. Most days are some variation on cutting trees, piling branches, and burning everything. I’ve completely lost my ability to smell wood smoke on my clothes, I’m guessing that’s because everything I own is saturated with it. Think I’m joking, take a look at what my schedule has been for the past month:

Cutting and Burning in Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro.

Cutting and Burning in Eastham, Wellfleet, and Truro.

There are a few novel projects in there, sterilizing our house while a particularly nasty flu-variant was moving through the other Americorps members like wildfire was a change of pace, as was constructing the educational boards for next years S-212 class at the Seashore. Other than that though, its been all fuels management, and I have the pictures to prove it.

Burning Piles other Americorps Members made for us at the Wellfleet Audubon

Burning Piles other Americorps Members made for us at the Wellfleet Audubon

Clearing roadsides at Pilgrim Springs

Clearing roadsides at Pilgrim Springs

Continuing to clear and maintain Old Kings Highway, an important portion of Cape Cod's emergency infrastructure.

Continuing to clear and maintain Old Kings Highway, an important portion of Cape Cod’s emergency infrastructure.

Clearing trees from the Penniman House at Fort Hill in Eastham.

Clearing trees from the Penniman House at Fort Hill in Eastham.

No doubt, as the weather warms our assignments will begin to vary a little more. On the plus side however, we’ve gotten a massive (from my perspective at least) amount accomplished in the last few months. Between the Americorps members and the Fire Crew members we put in 400 person-hours a week on projects like these. Things get done.

%d bloggers like this: