One thing that never ceases to thrill me about traveling is all of the new things I get the opportunity to experience. On Thursday I got to observe a prescribed fire for the first time here at the OSBS, it was a lot of fun!
I’m amazed at what all needs to come together to make one of these happen. The right number of trained personnel need to be available to fill all of the various jobs, which here often means bringing in outside fire crews to burn the larger units which can be 100 + acres. Today’s fire is going to small by comparison, only 14 acres, but we have a team in from outside the OSBS anyway, they are here for training purposes to get more experience. Many of them are from out west, but one is from Spain and one Australia. Gear and equipment all needs to be checked to ensure it is available and in good working order.
The area to be burned needs to be prepared too. Dead trees near the edges need to be cut down and put farther inside the unit to prevent the possibility that they’ll fall outside the lines and spread the fire beyond the intended area. The terrain gets mapped for what kind of fuels are within because as it turns out, needles burn more readily than most leaves which burn differently from grasses and brush. Goals are written up for the fire, how hot it should get, calculated from the fuels present and how much ground cover they want to burn off. This part is often figured out weeks or months in advance. A couple days before numbered markers will be posted around the boundaries of the unit to make it easier to communication location during the burn.
And then after all of those pieces are in place, some things are uncertain until the day of. The humidity has to be low enough that things will burn, but high enough that the fire isn’t likely to run out of control. The wind needs to be coming from a direction that won’t blow the smoke into residential neighborhoods. The county needs to approve the burn permit.
Once the green light is given, there is still a good hour or two of prep to do. One of these things is a meeting where the burn boss goes over the details of the fire with the crew and a plan is drawn up about where the fire will start and end. Maps of the burn area are handed out and crew members are assigned to different teams. Weather conditions and any potential concerns are gone over which today includes the power lines that run through the burn area, walkie talkies are set to the same channel.
It’s fascinating watching the start of the burn. It starts with a test fire to judge how the flames are going to behave before lighting begins in earnest. A little portable fuel can that has a long nozzle and a pilot flame at the end of it is used to light it. When the can is tipped, the fuel which is part diesel and part gas hits the pilot flame on the way out and a little arc of burning liquid splashes onto the ground. For today’s fire there are two to three lighters at various times after the test fire concludes, one starts from each end of the unit, the third jumps in when needed to light the holes that get missed.
I’m so use to fires outside of a fire ring being a bad thing that I get a little uneasy watching as it gets going, I wonder if this is an instinctual response that all people experience to some level. It could turn into a dangerous situation if not handled properly, and it’s easy to understand why so much prep work needs to be done ahead of time to ensure things go smoothly.
On the other hand it’s exciting too.
Since this part of the country use to get burned frequently from lightning started fires before modern man started their campaign of stopping all fire activity, a lot of the native plants and grasses benefit from regular fire. When it is suppressed they die out and reduce the diversity of the ecosystem. Here in Florida it’s not just a case of the occasional controlled fire preventing a huge and destructive wildfire down the line, it’s a part of the OSBS’s mission of conservation and it’s neat to get to be a part of that.
Before long the burn is running at the southern end of the unit in a line stretching east to west. The wind is very light today, but is coming slightly from the north. This is done intentionally to keep the wind from pushing the fire, it burns more slowly back into the wind and embers from the flames are blown into the black, the area that’s already been burned.
To keep a fire from building up too much momentum, getting too hot or too tall, often more than one line is lit. Instead of one large line allowed to run the full length of the unit there are a couple smaller ones that run a shorter distance. Today three lines are lit, although only two are going at any one time.
I take some videos and pictures naturally. The ground level palms crackle and produce large flames, it has something to do with the oils they produce, the oaks leaves fizzle. The prickly pear cactus even being so close to the ground and in the middle of the flames hardly seem to be affected at all, and on the black side of the burn they still look green and whole. The flames only average two feet or so, so all but the youngest trees come through unscathed. The weather remains favorable and it only takes 45 minutes or so from start to finish, success!
After the fire is declared completed I ride out with Andy who is in charge of me during the burn and we use the water tank mounted on the back of our ATV to put out an old long leaf pine that is still alive but has fire burning in a little hole in the trunk near ground level. If it’s allowed to keep burning overnight there is the possibility that the structural integrity will be damaged enough that the tree will fall, or weather conditions might change enough to let the little fire become a big fire that runs up the trunk and allows ash and ember to escape the burn area. There are one or two other “snags” like this that are put out, and the rest of the still smoldering trunks and downed trees that are calculated to pose no threat are allowed to continue overnight. By the end of the next day, everything has cooled off and the burn is truly complete.
After the burn is declared over, there is a conclusion meeting, which I did not attend. I would imagine the purpose would be to go over whether the objectives were met, and to discuss any problems than may have occurred. Then getting gear and equipment cleaned and put away usually takes another half hour to hour depending on the scale.
I am very glad that I had the chance to be here for this. Doing so meant I had to come in and work on Friday for two hours, since being an observer doesn’t count as volunteering as far as my hours go, but it was worth it. I learned a lot about how fires are managed and got a peek into a world I had never given much thought to before. Watching the crew work as a cohesive whole and the effort and communication necessary to pull the burn off from start to finish really gave me an appreciation for what these folks do.
Today I learned a little bit more not just about how managing controlled fires works, but about how the world works. If you want to stay young at heart, open to possibilities, and limber of mind, make the effort to keep trying new things. Traveling full-time in a RV makes it so much easier to do so that to staying in your comfort zone all of the time becomes almost a crime.
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One other bit of news this week, I am officially going to be working at the Amazon in Fernley, Nevada this fall! After submitting my application last week Friday I received a phone call on Wednesday which turned into my interview call when I said I had time to talk. Since I’ve worked with Amazon before the phone interview was mercifully short, and as always the job offer came at the end of it.
I’ll be updating my About Amazon’s CamperForce post again soon with more information about the Fernley site now that I know more. As I suspected the completion bonus has been bumped up to $1.00, but the shift differential for Fernley is 75 cents instead of 50, and I now have a list of Fernley’s approved campgrounds to discuss. Already the two closest campgrounds are completely full up including their waiting lists, and the next two are 20 miles away. There will be more coming up about my travel plans post ren fest once things get solidified, but for now let me just say that I am very excited to be heading out west this year! Have a good week all.