Crow’s Nest: Prescribed Fire 2024

March 15, 2024

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager.

Figurines used to model wildfire response for wildland firefighting training

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Wednesday this week was our annual prescribed fire refresher training. A required part of the fire program, this involves a physical fitness test, review of equipment and procedures, and a “sandbox” exercise to help us think through operations and contingencies. That’s the sandbox, above (it’s actually kitty litter), which helps participants visualize activities as they talk through what happens at each stage of wildland firefighting. Below, members of the fire crew review the operation of the portable pumps mounted on UTV’s—a game changer for prescribed fire because of their portability.

People reviewing operating procedures for wildland firefighting equipment

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Some of the crew put this year’s training to use the very next day, burning two small meadows at Crow’s Nest Preserve on March 14. Below, a view of the classic “flanking” fire drawing together from two sides of the meadow. This is the earliest date we’ve ever burned at a Natural Lands preserve, but we have to do it when the weather is in “prescription.”

A meadow being burned to promote native species.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Below, Devon is igniting the savanna, with Jill on “holding”—keeping the fire from spreading beyond the designated area. Staff from several Natural Lands’ preserves come out to support each day of prescribed fire.

A woodland opening being managed with prescribed fire.

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Prescribed fire keeps this woodland opening, well, open—and provides habitat for three species of milkweed and other plants that support butterflies. The savanna is the long, slim, blackened area in the lower right, below, with the hills of French Creek State Park in the background beyond the preserve.

An aerial photo of a woodland opening managed with prescribed fire with hills in the background

Photo: Daniel Barringer

When we finished at the savanna we turned to the lower parking lot meadow—a different fuel model which produces different fire behavior, even on the same day. We used the turf grass hiking trails as firebreaks. Neatness along the edges communicates the intentionality of what we’re doing. We did have one small spot over the line; this is as likely to have been caused by radiant heat as by a stray ember, but we saw it as soon as it started and put it out. You can see below where this meadow is located relative to the gravel parking lot near it and the visitor center barn at top center. French Creek flows past on the right side of the image.

A meadow managed with prescribed fire at Crow's Nest Preserve

Photo: Daniel Barringer

Prescribed fire mimics a natural process and creates the conditions under which desirable native plant species will thrive, supporting wildlife which depends on those plants. We try to burn a meadow unit at Crow’s Nest each year; any one unit is burned on about a five year rotation. Come by over the next few weeks to see how quickly this area greens up!