2020: A strange year for prescribed burn training

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Starting a test fire. Photo by Keith Hawkins.

The 2020 Prescribed Burn Workshop almost did not happen because of the strange times we are in. If Louisiana had not moved to Phase 2 of the White House plan for reopening toward a more normal life, then this training would not have occurred. The failure to have this event would have prevented some citizens from becoming Louisiana certified burn managers (CBMs).

When this event occurred, the host of this training, the Louisiana Ecological Forestry Center (LEAF Center), arranged for wider spacing of student seating and for plenty of hand sanitizer. The rules for spacing required fewer students to attend. Normally dozens of students would have participated in this training.

The LEAF Center, formerly Hodges Gardens State Park, recently joined the LSU AgCenter, the Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry, and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries as a partner for this event. The A. J. and Nona Trigg Hodges Foundation created the LEAF Center to promote both conservation and ecological education of the longleaf ecosystem in central Louisiana. Rodney McKay is the property manager of the LEAF Center and was the hospitable host for this prescribed burn workshop.

Niels de Hoop, LSU AgCenter forestry professor, was the lead instructor. The classroom topics included reasons for controlled fire, fuels, burning techniques, proper tools, optimal weather conditions, smoke management, liability management, planning, fire behavior and more. This training begins the process of becoming a Louisiana certified burn manager. The completion of five prescribed fires and their documentation completes the process.

The centerpiece of the classroom segment of the training was the preparation the burn plan, a vital document for liability protection. The plan also included the steps for effective smoke management. The highlight of the week was using the training and burn plan to “put fire on the ground.” McKay provided two potential burn sites to provide large-scale “live fire” training.

At the pre-burn meeting, weather and team assignments were discussed. After evaluating the weather onsite, McKay and de Hoop advised the students that the small 1-acre site would be the burn site. McKay discussed his preparation for the burn site and offered his guidance to execute the burn. After meeting onsite, students made a firebreak for a test burn with hand tools and learned the practical use of these tools.

Once the test site was prepared, the test burn started. Students and collaborators observed the wind and its effect on fire behavior. After these observations, McKay and de Hoop conferred with the students and decided against burning the entire site because dry duff was going to endanger desirable old longleaf pines. These trees are important to the LEAF Center for aesthetic reasons, and McKay wanted to preserve them for future center visitors.

If you want to be on the “sooty boots” email list to receive updates about future prescribed burn workshops, please contact Keith Hawkins, area forestry agent, at 337-463-7006 or khawkins@agcenter.lsu.edu.

Some positive outcomes resulted from this week of training included:

  • Seven people passed the classroom stage of becoming a CBM.
  • The test burn counted toward one of the five burns required to be a CBM.
  • Collaboration with the Louisiana Ecological Forestry Center.
  • An important part of prescribed burning is knowing when not to burn. For the first time in 10 years, a burn was called off at the prescribed burner workshop because of unsuitable conditions, and this decision represented a teachable moment.

— Keith Hawkins is an area forestry agent for the LSU AgCenter Southwestern Region.

9/16/2020 7:58:48 PM
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