The call came about 4:3M last Sunday – we are going to do the burn tonight at 6:00. I quickly fed the animals, walked the dog, and drove to the Dahlem Center. Our first prescribed burn of the year was about to happen and I wanted to be there.
As it turned out, we didn’t get started until after 7:00. It was a beautiful evening, although there was a bit of a strong breeze. We had reporters, volunteers, and observers galore on hand to experience what for some of them was a first-time experience: an intentionally set fire on the landscape.
David Borneman and his crew arrived over at the Ecology Farm and were soon suited up and ready to roll. While staff could’ve joined them, we opted to serve as photographers and crowd control instead.
No time was wasted getting started. The sun would be setting in under an hour and we had about sixteen acres to fire. The first section set alight was along the western edge of the glacial pond. The peepers and other frogs were calling in full voice – no fire was going to keep their amorous activities in check!
There wasn’t much fuel along the pond’s edge – plenty of water, though, thanks to recent rains. Soon the crew turned their attention to the grassland proper. A backburn was set along the trail, into the wind. The trail acted as a fire break, and the wind kept the fire from heading out across the open grassland.
Small burns were lit around the bluebird nest boxes. This would keep them from being engulfed when the big blaze came across the field later. Carefully aimed streams of water also kept the posts safe from catching fire.
Twice we had cranes fly overhead, calling.
And a small plane circled overhead, too. The fire must’ve looked amazing from up in the sky!
As the sun set, the oranges and yellows of the flames stood out beautifully against the dark backdrop.
Soon, however, we were nearly done! Some areas burned quickly…
while other areas resisted the heat and flames. These areas are stands of spotted knapweed, an aggressive invasive that I am convinced is made of asbestos!
No matter how many times they tried to fire the knapweed, most of it simply refused to burn. We will be hitting it later with herbicides to remove it from the landscape.
We are planning a second burn later in the year, tackling the wet meadow and fen south of the grasslands. These burns are excellent opportunities for people to learn how fire can be used as a tool to manage the landscape. If you are interested in learning more about controlled burns, give us a call.