With timely spring and summer rains producing an abundance of vegetation across much of the county, we are expecting the busiest prescribed burn season we’ve had in several years. In order to set the table for a successful prescribed burn season, now is the time to start planning ahead to make sure your prescribed burn meets your goals and is administered safely.
Why burn? One of the most important questions to be answered is what is the prescribed burn supposed to accomplish? Are you trying to increase palatability of grasses, decrease built up thatch, suppress brush species, or improve plant diversity for wildlife? A prescribed burn can aid in all of the previously mentioned goals, but in some cases they can further perpetuate or create new problems. If you are unsure, consulting with an Agrilife Extension Agent, Texas Parks and Wildlife Biologist, or USDA NRCS Conservationist prior to burning may provide some insight into these questions for your particular property and long term goals.
Once the goals and objectives have been defined and it is deemed a fire is appropriate, proper planning should be done to create a Prescribed Burn Plan. The highest priority for all burns should be safety and maintaining control of the fire at all times. A prescribed burn plan will outline safety concerns and establish guidelines for the day of the burn. Other details to be included in a prescribed burn plan include; weather parameters before, during, and several days following the burn, a list of tools for ignition and suppression, safety concerns, firing sequence, and potential downwind receptors. Also, a list of local authorities, agencies, and neighboring property owners that will be contacted prior to and the day of the burn should be made. All of these considerations should be taken into account well before striking the first match and will be included in a Prescribed Burn Plan.
Another important part of planning is to measure fine fuel loads and continuity so that a fire will carry across the burn unit. Generally a minimum of 2,000 lbs. of fine fuels should be present at the time of the burn; however more may be needed depending on your burn objectives. Grazing management or overall deferment is critical during the fall and winter to make sure fuel and continuity parameters are met. Warm season grass growth will end here in a few weeks. If you don’t have enough fuel accumulated by the first freeze, you certainly won’t late winter/early spring.
Fall is also a good time to start establishing fire breaks. Fire break widths are recommended to be a minimum of 10 times the height of the standing vegetation (i.e. 20 feet for grasses that are 2 feet tall). These can be constructed using a disc or blade, making sure the entire fire break is down to bare mineral soil. Discing in October to November allows time for grasses and other fuels to deteriorate prior to the burn and may decrease the total amount of trips needed for a clean fire guard. Some managers may also enhance this practice and incorporate cool season annual crops such as oats, wheat, or triticale to serve a dual purpose as a green fire break and food plot for wildlife.
For assistance determining if a prescribed burn is right for you and your property, please contact your local USDA NRCS office. They can also create a prescribed burn plan with maps, a checklist of tools, weather parameters, etc. tailored to your specific burn. Technical assistance in training and administering prescribed burns on your property are also available upon request. The McMullen County USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service can be contacted @ 361-274- 3221.
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