In early spring and fall, when weather conditions are favorable, forest preserve districts, prairie restoration sights, arboretums and other areas are treated with prescription burns. Prescription burns are controlled fires in specific areas. They are conducted by individuals specifically trained to execute these fires. Fire departments and 911 (emergency contact systems here in the States) are notified and signs are prominently posted notifying those who are entering a burn area that a prescribed burn is in progress.
A burn can be in a forest preserve as well as on a prairie. Even before one sees a sign alerting travelers that there are prescribed burns, the distinctive smell and the haze of smoke are indications that a burn is being conducted.
The purpose of these burns is to clear the forest floor or eradicate prairies of invasive species that may have taken hold and bullied native plants out of their natural habitats. It opens up the field or understory for native species to once again thrive and sun can filter in as years of debris are burnt away.
A prescription burn also serves as Mother Nature more naturally did, providing the intensity of heat and fire to open up dormant native seeds, allowing them to not only germinate and grow, but, to also provide food sources by exposing insects and seeds that birds thrive on in their migrations.
Prairie fires were a natural occurrence in this vast land; before farming, towns and cities arose across the prairies and great plains. So were forest fires. Lightening strikes on particularly dry tinder or native grasses happened with more regularity. Indigenous populations also purposely set fires when needed, observing nature’s ability to revive their hunting and gathering areas.
So it was, on several fine spring days, that I came upon prescribed burns, sometimes seeing the flames and smoke, other times seeing the dark, scorched earth where fires had recently been. I know that they will soon be alive with new growth as I saw birds swooping in to gather what only they could see, feasting on the forest and prairie floors.
Closer to home – well, actually at home – the Antler Man and I have been busy clearing away Winter’s leavings; twigs and reeds and weeds that we leave out of the mulch piles that are too small for the city’s brush removal and too big for composting. We live in an area where brush can be legally burned. Our neighborhood is often lightly peppered with smoldering brush piles in spring and fall.
After many-a-day that were too windy for fires, and the subsequent additions of fallen debris because of the winds, our pile had grown quite large and the day had bloomed quite adequately for a burn. I was heading out when Tom asked me to stay nearby for a bit as he was going to start a fire. So, there we were, adding a few more remnants of nature (there always are some) and a fire was lit.
As Tom stepped away for a few moments to get something-or-other, I reminded him to make sure the hose was turned on. It was. The fire, my friends, was quite hot and the wind kicked up and before we knew it the fire jumped, just a bit of hop, but a hop is hop and Pop was not on top! I shouted for Pop to bring on the hose for the fire was rushing toward the garden. I wasn’t as worried about the garden, which is a prairie garden, after all, but, I was worried about the arbor and barn and lions and tigers and bears, oh my !
All’s well that ends well.
We quickly snuffed out the errand flame’s path. The area is already alive with new growth, birds have been rummaging around in the charred spot, and so life goes, here on the Cutoff.