Prescribed Fire Conducted at Unionville Barrens

May 2, 2015

By Daniel Barringer, Prescribed Fire Crew

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This week Natural Lands Trust’s prescribed fire crew conducted its fourth burn of this spring, this time at Unionville Barrens at Cheslen Preserve. This habitat of rare plants depends on occasional fire to maintain the conditions which allows them to survive. Over the last century this site has not experienced fire and from aerial photographs you can see that the habitat area has shrunk to just a few small openings in the forest. Our plan is to gradually introduce fire and open up these areas to sun. Fire also reduces the organic matter on the site, creating the conditions where these rare plants can compete.

In the photo above, Preserve Manager David Casteneda (in the foreground) has just finished lighting a line of fire and is watching its slow, backing progress. In the background Erik Stefferud of Longwood Gardens who volunteered the day with our crew and Luke Hamilton, Idlewild and Saunders Woods Preserve Manager (both former Crow’s Nest interns) are holding the line with backpacks of water and rakes.

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Some of the Serpentine barrens has reverted to woodland which means there are much heavier fuels that can ignite. Standing snags are the most dangerous, as they can cast embers great distances and ignite fires outside the intended burn unit. Above, Jarrod Shull has the not-so-enviable task of cutting down the still-burning trees. Amazingly, the exhaust of the chainsaw blowing on the trunk adds enough oxygen for the embers to flare up. Once on the ground, the crew scrapes the smoldering wood with hard rakes and a little water, cooling and separating the fire from the fuel.

It’s been a dry and challenging spring and we were fortunate to get these prescribed fires accomplished. If you’ve been to Crow’s Nest lately you may have seen how quickly our meadows have greened up since our prescribed fires almost a month ago. At Cheslen you will also be amazed to see how the vegetation responds.