Once the prairie restoration becomes established, the site will need only a minimal amount of care. The mature prairie plants will prevent many weeds from becoming established. Fire also helps to maintain the prairie by reducing thatch, weeds, and undesirable woody vegetation. Usually, a burn should be scheduled for the site the first spring following planting. During the establishment phase of the prairie restoration, the site should be burned annually for five or six years. After this time, a prescribed burn every two years is sufficient to maintain the prairie.
Although prescribed burning is an excellent management tool, by its own nature, it is potentially dangerous. Proper planning for manpower and public safety must be accomplished. At a minimum, your planning should include the following items:
It is important to emphasize the necessity of good planning. Prescribed burning is an accepted and highly practical method of establishing, restoring and maintaining prairies, but its use must be carefully planned. The exclusion of persons with known health problems may eliminate a medical emergency during a part of the burn when all individuals are needed to help contain the fire.
When planning your prescribed burn, adequate fire breaks are a necessity. Rake, disc, or plow (if appropriate) a four to eight foot wide fire break around the proposed burn area. You may utilize natural fire breaks (creeks or bluffs) or artificial firebreaks (roads, ditches, or ponds) to contain the fire. Begin the prescribed burn on a day with low velocity winds by setting a backfire (a fire that burns into the prevailing winds) to increase the width of fire breaks, thereby reducing the possibility of the fire crossing the fire lane. Once you have burned out a sufficiently large area, set the headfire (a fire burning with the wind) at the opposite end of the plot (Figure 6). Headfires burn rapidly with high flames while backfires burn slowly with relatively small flames. If you are a novice at prescribed burning, you should obtain the help of an experienced person with your first burn.
Do not select a day in March or April that is hot (70 to 80 ), windy (20 to 40 mph or higher), and with low humidity (20 to 40 percent). You will be inviting a disaster. To keep abreast of weather conditions, use a pocket sized weather radio. These give continuous, updated weather information which is a necessity for large prescribed burns. These radios will also give information on rainfall, changes in wind direction and velocity, and humidity, enabling advance preparations to be made.
Numerous publications are available on the planning and evaluation of prescribed burns. These include Wright and Bailey (1980), Vogl (1979), Fischer (1978) and Pauly (1982). Useful information on prescribed burning is also present in Mobley (1978). If you are unsure of the proper planning and procedures for prescribed burning, you should consult these references or ask for advice on prescribed burning from the Division of Natural Heritage in the Department of Natural Resources, One Natural Resources Way, Springfield, Illinois 62702. Our clearing house has information also here.