Getting good fire on the ground

Getting good fire on the ground

Prepare su reproductor de audio Trinity...

Most of us living in the North Bay have seen an uptick in notices about controlled burning activities being done by CAL FIRE, local fire agencies, Audubon Canyon Ranch, and others. The alerts tell us who is doing the work and why, how many acres will be affected, and how to plan for increased smoke in our neighborhoods. As important as these notifications are to helping us adapt to a regular pattern of prescribed burning activities, they often don’t reveal the months — sometimes years — of planning, the coordination between public and private agencies and landowners, and the slim window of opportunity to conduct the burn.

Unit maps show access roads and containment lines.

So, what does it take to get good fire on the ground?

For landowners or managers who have identified prescribed fire as beneficial for land they steward, the preparatory work can include the creation or improvement of control lines, installation of shaded fuel breaks, limbing-up of trees and removal of dead snags around and near the perimeter, cutting access through fences, and more.

Depending on the complexity and size of the project, a prescribed fire burn plan and a smoke management plan are prepared for review by a certified burn boss and approved by CAL FIRE and the local air district, respectively.

Weather forecasts are monitored in the days leading up to the burn. The burn boss is looking for desired temperatures, relative humidity, fuel moisture, mixing height, and wind speed and direction to manage the conditions on the ground and provide for appropriate smoke dispersal. Within 24 hours of test ignitions, the National Weather Service provides a spot weather forecast specific to the exact location of the burn.

Piles of limbs and twigs are covered with paper to maintain dryness and help ignitions when burned.

Is there a season for prescribed burning?

Prescribed burning can take place any time of the year as determined by the readiness of the fuels to be consumed, the preparation of the burn unit, availability of prescribed fire crews, a weather forecast that falls within the prescription, and the desired ecological benefit. Prescribed grassland burns in the North Bay are conducted mid-May through early October, when annual grasses have dried out and before fall rains prompt new growth. In forested areas, mid-summer to early winter can offer the best chance for prepared woody fuels to be dry enough to burn rapidly and create less smoke.

Importantly, broadcast burns like these can only be done when fuels are dry enough to carry fire, generally less than 12% fuel moisture. In the winter, as seen across fields and vineyards in the region, smaller brush in covered burn piles can be consumed quickly. If any one element doesn’t align, a project may have to wait a week, months, or even years, undercutting the region’s need to build wildfire resiliency, safeguard neighborhoods, and support the health of the North Bay’s ecosystems.

Encroaching trees within a coastal prairie are felled and processed for a future broadcast burn.

Stay informed about our prescribed burns

Monitor smoke alerts on your mobile device with the Watch Duty app. Home-grown in Sonoma County, Watch Duty shares timely wildfire alerts and status updates — you’ll find our prescribed burns there, too.

Follow us on social media at @fire.forward and @auduboncanyonranch. We post smoke alerts on everything from broadcast burns to pile burns — and feature stories about how and why we burn.

Get regional notifications for our prescribed burns in your email inbox.