Burning the Prairie

There is not much to report from the garden except that the arugula and radishes I planted last weekend all came up and look great.  I had to thin the arugula and probably will have to thin more.  Also, we had a nice big salad of mixed greens on Saturday to accompany the delicious chicken noodle soup that Kathi made on Friday.  

On Sunday morning I made eggs-on-toast using bread and eggs from our friends at the farmer’s market and topped them with some fresh spinach from the garden.  That was nice wholly Kansas-grown breakfast.  After breakfast I went to Coe to cut down some 10-12 year old oaks that the previous owner let grow too close to the house.  The oaks were beautiful straight-trunked trees and I kept several of the long trunk pieces so I could use them for bean and fence posts. 

After I finished sorting the posts, fire wood and brush, I was preparing to cut the maples down that shade my garden in the back yard.  Then I got a call from my friend who is a field biologist at the Ninnescah Prairie Field Station which belongs to Wichita State University.  They had finally gotten the go-ahead to burn the prairie that afternoon and had to act quickly while the wind was right.   The team was called into action.  I hopped on my motorcycle and drove the 30 miles to the prairie station.  Seven of us showed up and we burned all day under light winds.  Toward evening the wind died to nothing and burning became difficult to control.  This was my first prairie burn and it was extraordinary how fast and hot the fire burns.  Here are some photos with captions. 

This fire had been burning for just a minute or two. This was early in the day while the wind was still blowing lightly from the southwest.

This was at the back burn which acted as a fire break for the larger burn.

A lot of the day looked like this. This is at the main fire line where we were working on the flank of the line keeping it from moving south.

This is a photo looking from east to west across the area we burned after the fire out was out. I estimate about 50 or 60 acres of burned prairie and you can see the smoke in the distance where the main fire line was. A front was moving in and keeping the smoke near the ground.

 All together we burned for about 3.5 hours and burned around 50 or 60 acres.  The burn crew consisted of 6 biologists and 1 chemist.  The research site is a total of 330 acres and it had not been burned for seven years.  The trouble is you have to get permission from the county and this requires very specific wind conditions.  The wind has to be greater than 5 mph and less than 15.  The burn season is limited to the spring, so they burn when they can, i.e. any windless, rainless weekend in burn season when you can get a team up on short notice. 

By the way, the tool I am holding in the photo above is called a “flapper” .  It is sort of like a truck mud flap on a long (not long enough) rake handle.  There were times when we had to rush in and beat out flames that were going in the wrong direction.  I think my face  has minor burns today.  This morning when I got up my forehead had leaked out some yellow fluid while I was sleeping.  Also, I can still smell smoke from my hair when I shake my head!  If you want to see where we burned put these coordinates into Google Maps: +37° 32′ 9.85″, -97° 40′ 20.18″.  You can just cut and paste them.

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