Own your smoke

By Eric Staller, Land Manager

Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is a safe way to apply a natural process, ensure ecosystem health, and reduce wildfire risk. Land managers and ecologists understand the natural process; fires have been part of the system since the beginning of time, and are as natural and important as wind and rain. We also understand the importance of prescribed burning to ensure ecosystem health; prescribed burning results in higher quality habitat for the early successional species, and increased water and air quality. Managers and the public can make the connection between prescribed burning and wildfire prevention; without the buildup of fuel (pine straw and leaf litter), the probability of a wildfire decreases, and the ability to suppress it increases. However, in today’s world with increasing populations, and more people living in the wildland urban interface, prescribed burn practitioners must put more emphasis on smoke management. If we don’t manage our smoke and the resulting negative impacts, then the public perception is that prescribed fires are bad, and they will push policy makers to take the ability to use prescribed fire away.

The majority of complaints and negative impacts of prescribed burns is a decrease in visibility on roads. Most issues occur in the early morning on roads near low lying areas. Smoke, just like water, will always move down stream and pool up. To make matters worse, this is where fog ends up, and where fog and smoke come together visibility is impacted. Fog may occur when the moisture content of the air is increased beyond the saturation point. During the spring burning season, fog occurs when the air is cooled below a critical temperature called the dew point. In all cases condensation of the excess moisture takes place on the microscopic dust particles in the atmosphere. However, when condensation of the excess moisture takes place on the Particulate Matter in smoke the “white out” phenomenon occurs, resulting in visibility reduction down to a few feet. A white out is usually the reason behind car pile ups on roads; drivers cannot see beyond the hood of the vehicle and quickly reduce speed, to make matters worse they cannot see whether they are on or off the road, and collisions occur. For most burn practitioners, dew point is the best way to predict whether fog will be present in the mornings. 

There are many weather sources for prescribed burn practitioners; one that many practitioners use is listed below and shows hourly what the weather is predicted to do. Practitioners should take into consideration the probably of fog the morning following a burn and adjust their burn plan accordingly. The most important consideration is when the burn will be completed. When active fire is moving across the landscape late in the day and the smoke does not rise and mix with the transport winds, then smoke issues are going to occur. Proximity to smoke sensitive areas and acreage are other considerations; if the drainage in your burn unit leads to a road, you may want to reduce acres, and have all active fire out by 3:00 or 4:00 pm; then, go burn another area where the drainage doesn’t lead to a smoke sensitive area. 

Hourly Weather Forecast Graph

On Sunday April 8, the temperature will not reach the dew point; fog should not be present that morning. However on the Monday April 9, there will be fog starting around 6:00 a.m. It will begin burning off around 8:30. 

Detailed Point Forecast

Once you open this link: http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?CityName=Tallahassee&state=FL&site=TAE&lat=30.457&lon=-84.2814, scroll down to the bottom of the page and use the arrow and zoom in to your specific location. Once that is done, click on hourly weather graph, and then add it to your favorites for future use. 

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