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Controlled Burning - Under Control

Updated: Dec 13, 2022

I've spent a long time, full-time, in Fire - 18 years now, and almost every one of those years I've been involved in Prescribed Fire in some way. It naturally follows that I bring that skill set out to private lands to help you achieve safe, effective burning on your lands.

Why hire a consultant? Why not just get some friends and/or a contractor and go for it? What's the difference?

If you're harvesting timber, you could just go find a logging company and tell them to take what they want, or clear cut it all - and live with (but probably regret) the results. In reality you'd hire a licensed/certified Forester to check out your property, assess the timber value, work with you to come up with a plan for the timber, what to sell and what to leave, and supervise the logger's work to make sure they're doing right by your land.

Prescribed burning is really no different, except that it carries much higher stakes if something goes wrong. You want an experienced professional to come up with a solid plan and coach and guide you through the process to set up a burn on your lands. Even better, this professional has the skills to teach you to safely and effectively conduct prescribed burns on your land - it's the "teach a man to fish" method that will ultimately make you more comfortable, more knowledgeable, and more capable.

Your land will eventually recover from a botched logging job. A botched burn can harm much more than the land, it can kill your livelihood - an escaped burn can result in civil liability and/or criminal charges depending on your jurisdiction.

What about my State's Prescribed Burning Law? Won't that protect me?

The short answer is "that depends on the State and the laws there" - I don't know the burn laws of every State and I'm not a lawyer. What I am is a trained, experienced specialist in Fire Management who has a background in law enforcement - specifically in Fire law enforcement, to include fire investigation.

Take Missouri's Prescribed Burn Law for example. In essence, it provides liability relief for landowners and Certified Burn Managers provided they are burning under a properly-formatted burn plan and absent any negligence. That last part is incredibly important - the standard here is simple negligence, which is failure to follow the standard of care and precautions that an ordinary person in the same situation would use. Since there's no doctrinal, procedural, or policy precedent or requirement set by the Missouri Department of Conservation above and beyond the law's requirement to "have a burn plan", what ultimately will happen is the Courts will likely defer to the Standard Operating Procedures and practices of the broader realm of Prescribed Fire. Yes, that means they'll be looking at the standards and procedures of the biggest, most engaged Prescribed Fire practitioner in the country, the United States Government: specifically the US Forest Service, National Park Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Affairs and their Prescribed Fire programs.

While you may not be held to their exact standards as you're not a permanent-full-time Fire Management person, there are some basic standards that I guarantee will be looked at and brought into question.

Here's some examples of the standards you can expect to be held to:

  • Burn Plan - is it tied to a land management plan/documented set of management objectives? Does your prescription allow for fire behavior that can be safely managed to achieve those objectives? Have you modeled the fuels and weather scenarios to formulate that prescription? Does your burn plan account for issues like spot fires or slop-overs, or a medical emergency that could disrupt your operations?

  • Burn Personnel - are they trained or experienced in any way? Are they adults, of sound reasoning, and sober? Is there someone on-site with significant relevant experience/qualifications to lead the burn and supervise personnel? Does everyone have proper equipment to safely light the burn and manage the expected fire behavior, to keep the burn "in its box"?

  • Burn Practices - are you utilizing appropriate firing patterns for the fuels and weather conditions at hand? Speaking of the weather, did you consult the weather forecasts the day/night before to know what to expect? Are you taking on-site weather observations at minimum every hour, to monitor evolving weather conditions on the burn and ensure you're in prescription?

If you answered NO to any of those numerous questions above, welcome to Negligence, Population: You. These are all questions that I, as a former Federal Fire Investigator, would have asked any private landowner whose burn escaped onto Federal lands - and I guarantee if I got a NO to any of them, the subsequent District Court case would not have gone in your favor.

So let's avoid problems. Consult with a professional. Whether it's me, a State or NRCS Conservationist skilled in Prescribed Fire, or other experienced/certified professional in Fire Management - get help before dropping a match or tipping a torch.

Fire Prevention Sign "Before You Light It, Be Prepared to Fight It".
One of my favorite "caution" signs when I was a Fire Prevention Officer for the Forest Service.

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