Outside the Fire

Do you have any idea how blessed we are to have such incredible mentors of prescribed burning?  I believe what makes a good burner is one that never stops learning and always learns from every fire, every experience, every time.  I decided to showcase prescribed burn practitioners who are just AWESOME at what they do.  I have found that the best folks to burn with are the ones who do not care about the glory or the attention.  “Outside the Fire” will showcase a prescribed burn practitioner who gets the job, doesn’t care about the credit, and has a true love and passion for prescribed burning.  These are their stories of fire.

 

Chris Schenck works as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Statewide Fire Program Leader for the Wildlife Division.  He also serves on the Texas Department of Agriculture Prescribed Burn Board and, most importantly, he is a friend, colleague, and admirably passionate about fire’s role on Texas rangelands.

How did you get introduced to fire? In 1979 as a college student at Utah State University (the other Aggies), I got a summer job as a Fire Prevention Technician on the Wasatch Cache National Forest. The long time Fire Management Officer Neff Hardman took me and others under his wing and gave us lots of opportunities in fire and fuels. In the fall when most students were in a dull work study job several of us would be burning brush piles in the afternoon on the forest till dark. Later when ranching in Idaho I tried burning windrows of sage brush with little experienced in “controlled burning.” I found out after burning down a Union Pacific drift fence and part of the neighbors pasture how little I actually knew about Prescribed Burning.

What started as a really good summer job became a thirty plus year career in Fire and Aviation with the US Forest Service. I continued to learn and progress in many areas in fire during my time. I was blessed to work throughout much of the country and even Alaska and Australia. I worked on Hand Crews, Engines, Helicopter Crews and Incident Management Teams. I also worked in Structural Fire and as an Emergency Medical Technician. Later I was a Fire Management Officer of a District and then a National Forest.

I did make a pretty good living in fire suppression and we did a fair amount of Prescribed Burning in the shoulder seasons and traveling throughout the south in the winter. A lot to times on real big wildfires, I wondered if what we were doing really made a difference. Seemed like those wildfires were going to go out when they wanted to, but we would take credit for it any way. I did notice many times when we had conducted Prescribed Fires and other fuels treatments and big wildfires ran in to those areas we had a better chance to actually manage the fire.

The US Forest Service has a mandatory retirement of age 57 for folks in fire. This was tough for me as I had just about figured out what I was doing at that age. Fortunately a job came along with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. The State Fire Program Leader for the Wildlife Division is the job I am currently in. This is perhaps the best job I have ever had in fire management. I am paid well travel all of Texas and don’t have to supervise anyone. More so my supervisors have empowered me to try to make a difference in the Division and there for in Prescribed Fire in Texas. The Division burns about 30-40,000 acres on Public lands and provides Technical Guidance for Prescribed Fire on 6-12,000 acres of private lands each year.   Perhaps this work in prescribed fire is a little penance for all the fire suppression of my youth.

How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? A year in advance would not be too soon to start planning for prescribed burns. The Division allows burn plans to stand without major revision for 5 years. This would signify a 5 year rotation for fire on the burnable land in a given project. Our Burn Plans also receive technical review by another Burn Boss. We have developed burn plans with short turn around for Private Land Technical Guidance Prescribed Fire within a month. These are usually low complexity Prescribed Burns. Most important are site visits and developing a fuels and weather prescription.

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? I think looking at the various fire effects and how the phoenix rises from the ashes so to speak. Certainly the immediate or first order fire effects is shocking to most viewers. Less so to me as I have a pretty good idea that with in a growing season new plant growth is coming. I have noticed in many ecosystems many native plants are hidden by the invasive species only to flourish in the post fire environment. Even in stand replacing fires in some fuel types we see results within that growing season. I am often disturbed by the terms used by the media about “destructive wildfires” or “total devastation.” Certainly these fires are destructive to people, infrastructure and livestock.   The ecosystem is often very resilient and comes back to more properly function stages. That’s where the phoenix comes from.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Success is multi-faceted. At the most basic level is that we kept the fire in the box and folks were safe in doing it. At the most complex levels is that we achieved our most desirable management or ecological goal. In between there are a variety of measures of success. For land owner Technical Guidance, first entry burns I often here the land owner say ”At first I was a little worried about burning, but now I see that under the right conditions it can be done.”

On or public lands larger projects after multiple entries it is rewarding to see quantifiable changes in forage production and type, or actual improved water yields. On landscape prescribed fires it is great to see communities able to sustain and manage a wild fire because of strategic prescribed fire and fuels reduction programs.

Who or what would you never burn without? There are a few things: A good prescribed burn plan with a sound fire behavior and weather prescription. Good preparation of fire lines or holding features. Good dependable people and equipment. I truly believe that 70% of success in prescribed fire is in planning and preparation. If you have that the mindful execution of the plan makes the other 30% of the burn day enjoyable. Even with an occasional spot or slop over, you had a plan to catch it before it was an escape. That’s the way 99% of prescribed fires go


Acorn Forestry is a full service forestry company specializing in reforestation, wildland firefighting, forest management and mid-rotation services in Lufkin, Texas. All services are provided to private landowners, consultants and companies with an emphasis on quality and accountability.  Basically, they are experts in prescribed burning!  I first met owner/operator Justin Penick at the Texas Department of Agriculture Prescribed Burn Board meeting and instantly respected him for his many talents and abilities.  Justin is one of the very best in the state and in the nation when it comes to successfully implementing a prescribed burn.  It is a pleasure working and learning from Justin and check out his website www.acornforestry.net for more information!

How did you get introduced to fire? I was first introduced to fire during the summer at a Boy Scout camp in Louisiana. I was 16 or so and helped direct about 100 Boy Scouts with flappers and rakes to control what ended up being about a 40 acre wildfire. The most memorable impact it had on me was how we were able to create line with the rakes and effectively use fire to fight fire. That experience helped shape my opinion of prescribed burning and sent me down a path that I’m still on today.

How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? Typically, we begin the planning of an actual Rx burn about two months prior to ignition. The time frame in all honesty is mostly controlled by our customer’s own schedule. We work to satisfy their desired schedule as best as possible. For management purposes in settings with large blocks of land and rotating timber stands we know up to 15 years out what the proposed burn rotation and schedule would be.

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? The uniqueness and beauty of a post fire environment in my opinion is the recovery rate of desired grasses and forbes. The fire adaptive species in our ecosystem thrive after even the most catastrophic of wildfires or the mildest of Rx burns. It’s truly amazing.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? The most important thing for us to have a successful burn is a safe burn. We have a very low tolerance for escapes that cause damage, or smoke that impacts neighbors or traffic in a serious way. With Rx burning we generally have another opportunity to do better in regards to specific results of the fire but you don’t get do-overs in damage or injury.

Who or what would you never burn without? Under no circumstances would I ever burn without the appropriate fire suppression equipment. The appropriate equipment varies from one ecosystem type to another but the lack of that equipment entirely is inexcusable.


Do you remember a certain professor/teacher/mentor that just naturally pushed you to think differently or harder?  Someone that encouraged you to see beyond the data and critically look at theories, ideas, and concepts, and not that you had to or were forced to, but because you were actually excited to?  Meet Dr. Bill Rogers, a Professor in the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management at Texas A&M University.  Dr. Rogers’ and his research team recently received funding from the Joint Fire Sciences Program to analyze resprouting characteristics of mesquite and native grasses under varying intensities of fire.  Bill is cool.  He is easy to talk to, he loves research, and it’s an honor to hear his story of fire.

How did you get introduced to fire? I was born and raised in Minnesota and my family even owns some land on the prairie-forest ecotone where fire would have been a historically frequent natural phenomenon, but the state has some of the strictest liability legislation in the nation regarding the use of prescribed burning. Consequently, except during an occasional state park visit where some burning had been done, I was not very familiar with the use of fire as a management tool in my youth. It wasn’t until I visited Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming and Montana in early 1990s, shortly after the “Let-Burn” policy for the wildfires on federal lands was enacted, that I was exposed to large-scale ecological burning as a natural process and management activity. In the mid-90s, I enrolled at Kansas State University and began working on my doctoral research studies at the Konza Prairie Research Natural Area (a Long-term Ecological Research site located in the Flint Hills tallgrass prairie) where I examined the interactive effects of fire and animal-generated soil disturbances on plant community dynamics. At this stage, I became much more fully immersed in various aspects of fire science and prescribed burning management.

How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? Because most of the burning I am involved with has a strong ecological research component, the planning and conceptualizing of what type of burning (location, size area, desired fuel loads, environmental conditions, etc.) activities we are going to conduct is typically done over a year in advance. As the time for implementing the prescribed burns approaches, we are usually monitoring weather conditions and finalizing assessments for our equipment and personnel a couple weeks ahead of the time we intend to put fire on the ground.

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? I find myself frequently frustrated when various news-media outlets describe a fire as having “destroyed” a natural area. It is undeniably tragic when an unintentional fire negatively affects human lives and personal property. However, fire is a natural process in so many ecosystems and many of these landscapes are incredibly resilient, not only quickly recovering post-fire, but thriving afterward. Another aspect of prescribed fire that has not been adequately communicated to the broader public is the tremendous insulating capacity of soil. Aside from the most severe and extreme fires with exceptionally heavy fuel loads, the heat from a prescribed fire is typically completely dissipated after only a couple centimeters below the ground surface. This leaves the majority of plant roots, belowground buds, seeds and other plant parts undamaged despite what may be total fuel consumption aboveground. The post-fire interactions between abiotic conditions (dynamics of essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and carbon) and biotic processes (vegetation, bacteria, and fungi) and ways in which these belowground processes influence aboveground vegetation recovery is something I also find extremely fascinating.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? First and foremost, a successful prescribed fire is one that is conducted safely. Risk is an inherent component of any management activity, but risks associated with fire are often magnified and taking precautions and following safety protocols should be paramount. Next, it is important to conduct prescribed fires with an a priori desired outcome. Setting goals and identifying objectives for a prescribed burn will allow an individual to assess the success of a prescribed fire activity. Of course, these objectives can vary widely and will depend on a variety of ecological, environmental, and socio-economic factors. A wise person stated “Every management action is an opportunity for an experiment.” I fully agree that setting goals and objectives, then assessing whether you have met those milestones is essential for advancing our knowledge and achieving even better successes in the future.

Who or what would you never burn without? I would never burn without a sufficient quantity and quality of both experienced personnel and safety equipment. Again, the risks of prescribed burning are considerable, but working with knowledgeable and well-prepared individuals can sufficiently mitigate many of these concerns.

 


I am a huge fan of ranching women, because I know that a woman who ranches also raises a family, keeps the books, cooks, cleans, and is just as busy in her community as she is checking livestock and tending to horses.  George Strait said it best, “how bout them cowgirls”!  This month, I want to introduce you to an exceptional lady – Marcy Epperson.  Marcy and her family ranch outside of Rocksprings and she recently successfully completed her Texas Department of Agriculture Certified and Insured Prescribed Burn Manager’s license after years of hard work and dedication to learning.  Marcy is a mom to two boys, a wife, a rancher, and now a prescribed burn manager!  I am proud to call her my friend and colleague!

How did you get introduced to fire? I was introduced to fire through family—as a child I loved helping burn brush piles. There was a hill on the family ranch named Ole Baldy, because my grandfather had burned it. Adult family members always laughed it off as an “accident”, then they’d get serious and say they thought he’d burned it on purpose, like Native Americans had done. I tend to believe the latter, but it probably scared him half to death, and well should have!

How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? Generally, at least a year; every preparation seems to take longer than the budgeted time, from blading fireguards to having enough accumulated grass (fine fuels) after deferment of grazing. 

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? I would say the most interesting thing is how wildlife throngs into the black immediately after a prescribed fire. From Rio Grande turkeys looking for scorched grasshoppers to quail with chicks and jackrabbits, they all immediately appear and move right into still smoking areas. Any apprehension about wildlife and prescribed fire is always quieted; this isn’t necessarily the case with the wildfire.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? I know we all look for success with specific goals and objectives, but ultimately, a safe fire is, in my opinion, a successful fire. Every single fire will be good in some way for our fire adapted ecosystem, and safety is key.

Who or what would you never burn without? I would never burn without a comprehensive burn plan, an experienced crew with good equipment and radios, and most importantly– an up-to-date weather forecast. 

 

 

 


Dr. Butch Taylor loves the Sonora Experiment Station dearly, and another person who loves it just as much is Dr. Doug Tolleson.  It seems only appropriate that we follow Dr. Taylor’s words of wisdom with Dr. Tolleson’s.

 

How did you get introduced to fire?  Early in life, we would burn pastures periodically to “clean them up” and at scout camp we would help dig line to contain small forest fires.
Professionally, I would help Keith Owens and his crew at the Uvalde Experiment Station and then Jim Ansley at the Vernon Experiment Station with their prescribed fire research.

How early do you start planning for a prescribed burn? As early as possible, but let’s say about a year ahead on average if you count grazing deferment, etc…

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment?  When it rains we look like geniuses… seriously, I think it is the way rangelands respond to fire given the pre-fire conditions and post-fire precipitation, etc…

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Proper planning beforehand and a good rain after (see question 3)

Who or what would you never burn without? An experienced burn boss and an up to date weather report


If you have ever heard of prescribed burning in Texas, then I am sure you have heard of thee Dr. Butch Taylor.  He goes by Dr. Charles A. Taylor, Jr. on his numerous publications (I’m telling you folks, he wrote the book, literally).  Butch is a tremendous friend, mentor, and colleague and I hope you enjoy his story as much as I have.  We could all learn something from Butch.

How did you get introduced to fire? Fire was first presented to me as a viable range management option when I was in 4-H and involved in range judging.  Later, as an undergraduate majoring in range science, fire was again presented as a viable range management option.  However, both of these experiences were more hypothetical and involved no practical application of fire to the landscape.  In fact, in the mid-and late 1960s, fire was viewed as being harmful to the ecosystem by the general public and even by some range professionals.  Also, growing up in a “dry-climate”  (Pecos County), I was not able to experience or view any evidence that fire was something that could be used in range management (I never saw any evidence of a fire-culture and didn’t know if it existed).   

Surprisingly, the army provided my first experience of the benefits of fire.  I entered the Army in 1968 and was sent to Fort Sill for artillery training.  I’m sure I was the only range science major in the class.  A big part of our training was live-firing artillery into the impact zone.  They would load us in trucks and transport us to the firing range where we would be assigned a target and we would have to send in fire missions via radio.  This training occurred during July and August and it was extremely hot and dry.  Coming from the Trans-Pecos region of Texas, I had never seen grass production like what was produced at Fort Sill (i.e., tall grasses such as big bluestem, Indian grass, little bluestem, etc.).  

One extremely hot, dry, windy day, while firing artillery rounds into the impact zone a fire broke out.  The wind was blowing towards us and even though there was some distance between the impact zone and our location, it was obvious the fire would be upon us quickly.  The Colonel in charge of the exercise quickly gave the order to load-up in the trucks and get out of the area.  While everyone else was scrambling to get into the trucks, I stood and watched in amazement as the fire traveled across the landscape with flame lengths over 20-feet high.  My attention was quickly brought back to the issue at hand as the Colonel screamed in my ear to get my b_ _ on the truck, right now! 

Later I asked the Colonel how often they had fires during the training sessions.  He commented he had been stationed at Fort Sill for over 5-years and his recollection was that it had burned every summer.

Later I was stationed at Fort Hood, where I observed the same results of frequent fire as I observed at Fort Sill.  And, then I spent a year in the Mekong Delta of Vietnam and while most of the land was used for rice-farming, there were zones where farming was not used due to frequent and intense combat.   These areas were dominated by tall grasses which burned frequently during the hot, dry- season.   

Because of these observations in the Army, I started setting fires under hot, dry conditions as soon as I got in a position of authority.     

How early do you start planning for a burn? There are general guidelines that can be used in the process for prescribed burning.  A general guideline is to start prescribed burn planning 2-3 years prior to implementation of the burn.  The application of prescribed fire is not rocket science, but it can be complicated.  One major reason for this is that actual burn days are limited within any particular year, and the burn plan should be planned and developed well ahead of the actual fire (e.g., wait until optimum weather conditions and then be in a position to pull the trigger at a moment’s notice).   Preparation of the burn unit is also time consuming.  For example, fire-line preparation results in piles of brush along the fine-line.  Brush piles contain large amounts of 10-hour fuels.  Diameter of these fuels range in size from ¼” to 1” in diameter.  They are light enough to be picked up by the energy of the fire but large enough to continue burning a considerable distance downwind (i.e., I’ve experienced spot fires starting 600-feet downwind from brush piles).  Brush piles should be burned during safe conditions.  Bottom line is that a comprehensive burn plan may contain over 20-important items that have to be developed, planned, and explained prior to the burn; this takes time. 

What’s most unique about a post-fire environment? The answer to this is somewhat a function of the goals and objectives of the landowner.  For example, if a manager is mostly trying to improve cattle production then fires that reduce woody plant cover and increase grass are usually favored.  If the major noxious plants are perceived to be prickly pear, ashe juniper, and Eastern red cedar, then starting prescribed fires during dry periods in the summer time can have drastic effects on the vegetative complex.  Even with dense stands of juniper and pear these plants can actually be killed with the right kind of fire (i.e., reclamation burns conducted during drought).  This practice of growing season burning has the most potential for increase grass production in the Edwards Plateau.

If the goal is to improve forage quality with some suppression of woody plant growth and/or mitigate wildfire frequency and intensity, then burns conducted during the dormant season under mild conditions might be the choice.  Actually, very few species of plants are killed by fire.  Most plants are well adapted to fire and respond in a positive manner following fire.  Fire is not a one-time tool.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Any fire that meets the goals and objectives of a land manager is a successful fire.  The goals and objectives should be clearly explained in the burn plan and a prescription developed to meet those goals and objectives.  It should also be remembered that grass is the major component of the fuel to carry the fire.  And that grass can be used for forage or fuel.  So a successful fire not only requires a comprehensive burn plan but also effective grazing management.

Who or what would you never burn without? I would never burn without a weather forecast.  Over the years I’ve seen more people get into trouble starting fires without having a comprehensive weather forecast (this includes prescribed burns, burning brush piles, trash burning, etc.).  A close second would be a good comprehensive insurance policy.

 


Hello Chuck Stanley. A friend. A colleague. And a guy that has a wealth of knowledge underneath a dang good looking hat. I first met Chuck through my dad. Chuck and my dad were at a Society for Range Management meeting in Albuquerque and they were the only two men in the Advisory Council meeting that were #1) wearing black Stetsons and #2) talking common sense. They would later bond over fire stories. Fast-forward 8 years later and I am still hitting Chuck up for that common sense, boots-on-the-ground, hard-working, well-deserved, sweat-equity common sense.

Chuck has been putting fire on the landscape for 30 years, since his beginning range days at Texas Tech. Chuck is a Range Management Specialist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) in Fort Worth. He is, basically, the go-to-guy for all things RX Fire in Texas and, especially, with the NRCS. In other words, he knows his stuff. This is Chuck’s story of fire.

How did you get introduced to fire? Well that is interesting, To me anyway. When I first started Texas Tech, like many other freshmen, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I bounced from major to major and not really finding my niche. I believe at the time I was taking engineering classes and took an introductory course into range and wildlife habitat. That was when I decided to change majors once again and moved over to the Range and Wildlife department at TTU, thinking what a fortunate decision this would be as I could hunt and fish and get paid for it. So I had to go and visit with my new advisor to get my classes set up and little did I know I was sitting in front of the man who wrote the book on prescribed fire, Dr. Henry Wright. During my “interview” on classwork, Dr. Wright asked me if I had ever burned any rangeland. I thought it might be a trick question to see if I was or had been convicted of arson at some point. I have not been but I have “accidentally” burned a few acres in my younger days. Dr. Wright smiled and said “ well tomorrow we are going to go burn 5000 acres”, I said “on purpose?” From that point on, I was hooked and have been involved with prescribed fire for 30 years. Funny thing, I am getting paid for it.

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? It all depends on what type of burn we are needing to meet objectives, and where the burn is to take place (smoke management issues etc.) However, there are times that I have known a place that needed burning, and when a perfect day comes along, we get it done.

What’s the hook for you on fire? I would say the main hook for me is the rejuvenation of the vegetation following the burn. And the landowners satisfaction of the results. I really like to teach the art of prescribed fire and try to get others interested.
In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? Generally speaking, I would say one that stays within the perimeter of the burn site, and all personnel are safe. Beyond that, one where the objectives were met.

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without? My matches and driptorch…. Over the years there have been a bunch of folks that I truly have absolute trust in while burning. Generally they have been doing this a good while, and know what to look for, and understand fire behavior very well. I would not hesitate calling anyone of them if they were in the vicinity. Because of my position now, I just don’t get to go and burn like I used to.

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________

The Duff Ranch, located in Tom Green, Schleicher and Irion counties, received the Texas Department of Agriculture’s Family Land Heritage Award last fall for continuous operation by the same family for 100 years. The Duff Ranch was established in 1904 by Sam Houston Henderson 13 miles east of Eldorado. Sam accumulated more than 100,000 acres during his lifetime, where he ran 6,000 head of cattle. Today, Duff Hallman and Trip Hallman have operated the ranch since 1975.

Duff is a licensed and insured private prescribed burn manager through the Texas Department of Agriculture.

How did you get introduced to fire? Dr. Jake Landers at a field day at the San Angelo Research and Extension Ag Center

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? It is a combination of both; planning ahead for proper fire guards is ongoing whether it is a summer or winter burn and if fire is one of your methods of range improvement you seize opportunity when it knocks.

What’s the hook for you on fire? The hook for me is cost and results.Customary methods of conservation work are not cheap and cost share is fading. Burning must be a long term systematic approach.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? A successful fire is one that accomplishes the goals set out in the planning of the burn. I have never had a bad one. 

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without?  My weather monitor and one of my sons who I am teaching this practice to. 

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

This November we are talking with Mr. Wesley Evans, Regional Fire Coordinator for Texas Parks and Wildlife.  Wesley is based out of Mason, Texas and I have never met a more dedicated and caring individual for the stewardship of prescribed fire.  Wesley is super cool and he has my #1 favorite quality in prescribed burning practitioner – HE GET’S IT!  Meet one of my favorite TPW people, Wesley Evans…


tpwHow did you get introduced to fire?
I more or less lucked into fire. After graduating college, I didn’t have much direction or job prospects – I was literally sleeping on my buddy’s couch. One of my friend’s cousins was a District Fire Management Officer for the US Forest Service and she called me letting me know that they were going to have some firefighter jobs opening up soon and that I should apply. I applied and was hired on the Rolla Ranger District of the Mark Twain NF. The job was only a six month position, but only after a few weeks of prescribed burning and fighting wildfires I was hooked. As that job was starting to wind down, I began applying for fire positions all over the country. I was offered a position with the US Fish & Wildlife Service at Balcones Canyonlands NWR in the summer of 1999. I took the position, which turned out to be for a crewmember on a Prescribed Fire Module that would travel all over Texas (and the rest of the US) burning. The rest, as they say, is history. After 14 years with the USFWS, I moved to my current position with Texas Parks & Wildlife – still travelling and burning, but now just throughout Texas.

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? I try to find a way to do both. Weather is highly variable, so trying to plan a burn well in advance is most often an exercise in futility. I’ve found that the best approach is to take advantage of those good fire weather days as soon as possible because you might not get many more opportunities in a given burn season. This was relatively easy when I worked for an agency that had dedicated fire staff and equipment. With that being my only frame of reference for many years, I always that just thought that was the way it was done. The last few years in my new job working with private landowners, PBAs, and other agencies has shown me that this approach was the exception rather than the rule. While I was used to deciding to burn a particular unit the day before, I quickly learned that that’s more than often not possible in the “real world”. Now, I have to work through the same challenges that everyone else does in trying to balance prescribed burning with everything else we have to do. So how do I plan well in advance yet still take advantage of those good fire conditions? The very first thing is to set expectations from the start of the planning process. The more flexibility we can set in the burn plan, the more chance of success in both meeting the management goals or even getting a chance to burn. I try to dissuade my landowners from picking one specific day well in advance to burn. Sometimes it’s just the way it has to be, but I would much rather plan for a 3-5 consecutive day burn window during burn season or several days throughout the season. Planning to burn on January 22 really paints you into a corner and limits your flexibility. I’d rather see something like planning on burning January 20-23 and then picking a specific day once we are about a week out when the weather forecasts are a little more accurate. I’ve also had success with planning on burning on several days spaced out over time, such as Fridays in February. Breaking up a burn area into several smaller units and not just one large unit can also help to take advantage of those “just right” burn conditions and also allow for success if the burn day is marginal, but the people and equipment are available and ready to burn. More often than not it will take less people to burn a smaller burn unit, so it may be easier to get enough folks to burn 50 acres on short notice rather than 400. Along those same lines, if we have planned on a burn day in advance and the weather isn’t right for burning the whole unit there may be possibility to burn a smaller area. If the RH is too high, can you burn a small portion to make a blackline or buffer? If the wind direction isn’t good for the whole unit, can you still burn part of it that won’t smoke out your neighbor or that highway? I had one larger burn planned well in advance when we were going to have the proper amount of people and equipment, but it ended up snowing that day. We were still able to take advantage of having everyone there by burning piles that were along the edge of the burn unit, making burning the large unit much easier. I also try to make my prescriptions as broad as possible to take advantage of “marginal” burn days. For example, higher winds can offset higher RH and still produce adequate fire behavior to meet management goals. Having really good fire breaks can also let you take advantage of those marginal days on the other end of the prescription. I’m much more comfortable burning under hotter and drier conditions if we have nice and wide fire breaks down to mineral soil and no brush or volatile fuels close to the line. The bottom line is that building flexibility into the planning process and the burn plans will allow more success. This can also help in avoiding those situations where you may get stuck trying to burn under marginal conditions and either not meet management objectives OR have the fire get away.

What’s the hook for you on fire? I think there has been three different stages of my fire career, each with their own hook. When I first started, I loved prescribed fire because it was fun, exciting, and allowed me to travel. What 22-25 year old guy wouldn’t love traveling all over the country dragging a drip torch or working on a fire engine, right? After several years of this, fire is still exciting and fun but not the main reason that I enjoy prescribed burning. About 8 years ago I would have probably said that I burned just because it was a job, but looking back on it that’s not the case. At that point I loved prescribed fire because of the challenge/problem-solving aspect of it. I enjoyed (and still do) being given a difficult assignment on a burn and trying to find the best and safest way to complete it was the hook for me. Now, the main reason I love prescribed fire is that I can teach people about prescribed fire. When we assist a landowner who has little to know experience with fire (or who’s only experience is with wildfire) and show them what a properly planned and executed prescribed fire looks like, the reaction is always the same – “that wasn’t that bad/scary. I think that’s something we could do.” I love that. Or when you can see the light bulb come on as someone is doing something as simple as operating a drip torch. That’s the hook for me. I’ve seen it time and time again and it doesn’t matter who it is. Young or old, man or woman. At first they are timid, walking slow maybe even holding the torch with two hands. At the end of the day they are slinging that torch like a hotshot and showing others how to do it. That’s the hook for me now. I still enjoy the fun, excitement, and challenge – but the teaching/mentoring is what motivates me to keep burning.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? First of all, it’s a successful fire when everyone gets home safe (that’s probably the wildland firefighter in me). If we managed to keep all the equipment running and didn’t break anything, that’s a plus. I also think it’s successful if everyone involved learned something on the fire. It doesn’t really matter what they learned – as long as they learned something. It can be about fire behavior, specific firing techniques, weather influences, how a particular fuel burns, the planning process, etc. Even if someone learned that they don’t really care for burning and it’s not the tool for them, that’s still an important thing to know. A burn is also successful if we can put a column of smoke up in the air and it doesn’t result in a ton of calls into 911, worried neighbors, etc. This is really important in the wildland-urban interface. Getting communities more comfortable with prescribed burning is vitally important in growing the fire culture here in Texas. The last measure of success for me is meeting the management objectives. If we can be successful in all of the ways above and still meet objectives, than I’d consider a burn to be fully successful. If objective aren’t met yet everyone is safe, folks learned a thing or two, and we promoted the fire culture a little in the area – I’m still more than pleased.

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without?  That’s a tough question just because I burn in so many different places with so many different folks. In most cases, I will do a burn on one ranch or with a cooperator and then on the next burn I do there will be a whole new set of people. I suppose it is one disadvantage of my job that I’m not able to burn with the same people every time. If you do 30 or 40 burns with someone, you get to know how they think and are able to predict their thoughts and actions somewhat. It’s like playing pick-up basketball. You play with the same bunch of guys for long enough, and you start to know each one’s tendencies and strengths/weaknesses. Then you go to a different court or gym and have to learn it all over again. In the second situation, you can only be successful if there is plenty of communication and everyone is willing to work with each other. Seems to me that’s about the same as a burn crew. Our staff here at TPWD are very well trained, so even if I’ve never burned with one of our employees or even just met them – I know that they have been trained to the same standard that we all have and know the basics. I’ve always had positive experiences burning with the PBAs as well. The wealth of knowledge and experience in all of the burn associations I’ve worked with is such that I’m comfortable on those burns even if I’ve never met some (or most) of the folks on the burn. So, I guess an answer to the question is that there isn’t anyone that I wouldn’t burn without. I don’t really have that luxury. As long as everyone is willing to learn and communicate, I’ve always had good experience with all my burn crews – even complete strangers.

Thank you Wesley for all that you do for prescribed burning on Texas rangelands!

________________________________________________________________________________________________

This October we are featuring Mr. Jeff Goodwin, Range and Pasture Consultant Agricultural Division with the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation in Ardmore, OK.  Jeff is a Texas man, but more importantly he is a fire man who promotes the responsible and practical use of fire on rangelands.

How did you get introduced to fire?  I got introduced to fire as an undergraduate at Tarleton State University’s Range and Ranch Management program. After graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with Dr. Bill Pinchak and Dr. Jim Ansley at the Texas A&M Research Center in Vernon, Texas conducting research projects utilizing fire to manage landscapes in the Rolling Plains of Texas.  The majority of my experience with fire however, has come through the 15 years I spent as a rangeland management specialist with USDA-NRCS. They provided the training, experience, and opportunity to work with landowners to address rangeland resource concerns and meet their management objectives. Very often in a fire starved landscape, those rangeland management objectives were achieved and/or aided with the proper application of prescribed fire

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come?  I have been trained my entire career to be a planner, to think about how our management will meet a specific goal and how that action will affect other resources.  However, to answer the question Yes I make plans well in advance, but I also take advantage of favorable conditions as they arise. To me that’s the beauty of a well written and designed prescribed fire plan. Many times we have a specific goal or objective we want to accomplish within a particular burn unit. The challenge and objective should be to write your burn plan specific enough to meet the objective yet the prescription parameters should be open enough so that you have the flexibility to take advantage of those favorable conditions as they arise. The worst thing you can do is to make the prescription parameters so tight that you that you 1) will never meet them and thus never get the burn implemented or 2) push yourself to the limits of your plan parameters and possibly open yourself to liability issues should trouble arise. 

What’s the hook for you on fire? The hook for me with fire is that I am a student of Ecology. For too many years we have looked at fire as a “tool” to manage rangelands. Fire is not a tool, it is an ecological process. A “tool” can be put back in the toolbox and/or replaced. We are currently seeing across the region what happens when we try to replace or use fire sparingly as a tool. I currently live in the middle of the Southern Great Plains, an area encompassing the majority of Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas. Every square inch of rangeland in this region evolved under a fire regime with a fire return frequency, it was part of the fire dependent ecology of this region. As “we” began to manage those rangelands, 150 years ago we suppressed that ecological process. Many of the battles that we fight today in the field of rangeland management are directly related to that suppression, (i.e. woody brush encroachment, reduced rangeland productivity, etc.). So my hook is returning the ecological functionality of our rangeland resources while meeting management objectives of the land stewards that care for them.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? A successful fire in my opinion is one that meets the goal and objective of the burn unit. I am not a fan of burning just to burn. Many times we miss opportunities or do not meet the specific objectives of a fire just because we want to get it “done”. For instance, if my goal is to control or suppress Prickly Pear cactus, I will need a couple of things to ensure that outcome. I will need to choose a year or time when we have grown enough fine fuel to carry the fire to adequately meet that objective. I should choose prescription parameters that will effectively allow for a fire hot enough to meet those objectives. If we burn on a day that does not meet those parameters then we will likely not meet the original objective and we will have utilized our fine fuel. Now, I agree there are multiple benefits to getting fire back on the landscape. However, I am in the business of meeting landowner objectives and managing rangeland, to do that we need to be successful with our management applications and fire is no exception. Earlier I stated that Fire was an ecological process that needed to return to Texas rangelands, that is true. With that said, we need to be the ones that decide, when, where, how much and how long. This is where we take the science of rangeland management and turn it into and art.

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without?  I do not have a specific person that I would not burn without, however I will not burn without speaking to my Lord and Savior. I pray before each burn that the lord provides his hand in safety over the crew, the clarity to make the right decision at the right time, and the gratitude for the responsibility to care for the rangeland resources he has provided us dominion over. Fire is a necessary process but can be very unforgiving if the proper amount of respect is not given. Safety is and will always be our number one priority on a burn.

Thank you Jeff!

_______________________________________________________________________________________________

This September we are talking with Sam Jetton.  Sam is the Vice President of the Upper Llanos Prescribed Burn Association.  He is a leader, teacher, and just flat out loves to burn.  Click here for more information on Sam’s prescribed burn association.

This is why Sam burns.

How did you get introduced to fire? I had attended several of Butch Taylor’s presentations on burning but was still not convinced of the efficacy of fire when I considered all the “hidden costs” such as time to grow fuel and time to recover. Folks who are making a living from the land can seldom afford the luxury of time and rain to grow fuel and then time and rain to re-grow it after a burn. We may see that as short sighted but when growing grass is your only source of income, doing without can just cost too much. What actually convinced me to burn was when Lewis Allen (longtime friend and neighbor) called me and asked me to assist on his burn. It was the invitation and personal experience with someone nearby that opened my eyes.

Do you make special plans for fire in your management plans well in advance, or take advantage of good fuel and weather conditions as they come? I “burn in my head” for years prior to attempting the actual burn. Sitting on a dozer clearing cedar gives me a lot of time to think. Right now I have four more burns planned in my head. It will take years to get them accomplished.

What’s the hook for you on fire? As I told you previously, my burning desire was born of frustration. After years of clearing and then re-clearing brush only to have it return seemingly faster than I could progress I needed help both in clearing and in preventing (or at least slowing) the return regrowth.

In your opinion, what makes a successful fire? The “pat” answer is one that meets the goals specified in the burn plan. That said I have always stated that ALL burns do some good. Many times we sacrifice some measure of success to achieve a safer burn. While these may not meet all the stated objectives they do meet some and increased safety should always take precedence.

Who in your burn circle/crew would you never burn without? Well now, nobody in our association has been able to attend every one of my burns BUT I always feel safer and more reassured when I have Lewis Allen for advice, my wife, Robin, as well as Claudia Parker and Michelle Brangenburg for observation and back side contain, and Tony Hall for suppression. There are many others that perform major roles in my burns but these are my rock steady crew.

Thank you Sam!

Comments are closed.