Less than ONE MONTH to register for Burning Issues!

We’re just weeks away from the biggest fire conference in the midwest! Burning Issues is a two-day workshop designed to give land managers, researchers, students, resource specialists, biologists, ecologists and fire practitioners a chance to share their expertise in a way that tackles the biggest issues we face in wildland fire and prescribed fire work. With speakers from the USDA Forest Service, Michigan DNR, and various elite academic institutions, Burning Issues is a one-stop shop for those wishing to learn more about fire; whether you’re a newbie or a veteran, there’s something for everyone to learn.

I can remember my first Burning Issues, which was just last year. I’d just gotten into fire and hadn’t even been on my first burn yet. I was in the middle of completing S130/190 online, and was filled with wonder, excitement, and tons of questions. I didn’t understand the fire world yet, didn’t get what our role was, or what we really accomplished aside from getting to watch stuff burn in a really cool way. Burning Issues was hugely important for me. Being surrounded by professionals, researchers, people who make their living doing fire, was as humbling as it was invigorating. The conversations I had at Burning Issues made me aware of the passion in the fire community, the love and curiosity that brings people into this field. Sure, we get to light stuff on fire, but we’re also carrying on a hugely important process that has existed for longer than just about anything else on earth. I was exposed not only to passionate individuals, but also their research, their planning, their insight, their beliefs, their (if you will) fuel.

Getting to learn firsthand from professionals gave me the kick I needed to dive further into the fire world. I started researching, comparing techniques, looking up ways to improve the burn program I was a part of. I became consumed by fire, and I can point my finger at Burning Issues as the event that sparked so much of my interest. Sure, I’m biased since I work for the Council now, but I can truly say that Burning Issues was an extremely important event for me, as far as my diving into the fire world goes. I sincerely hope you’ll be able to say the same.

Click here to view more information on Burning Issues


Click here to register!

Burning in the Growing Season - Beneficial or Pointless?

I’m always hungry for burning. So when it’s December and I see temperatures hitting the mid-forties, I find myself asking myself: “Is there any way we could we burn in this?” Though the answer is a resounding “no!”, more and more these days, I’m trying to find excuses to burn whenever and wherever I can. As I continue to research the dramatic lack of fire in the American landscape, I’m filled with the urge to make up for all the years lost to fire suppression by putting down as much fire as I possibly can. I’ve got no problem saying that I’m jealous of Florida - not for any of the things that make Florida the crusty, peculiar-headline-generating State that it is - but simply because they get to put down fire year-round. As a result, Florida has one of the most prolific burn programs in the country, and burns an average of 2.1 million acres of land every year. To put that in perspective, Michigan’s average (as reported by MDNR) floats closer to 7,000 acres per year. We undoubtedly live in a less fire-prone climate, but it’s still a stark contrast that sparks in me a desire to ramp up the amount of burning we’re able to do. Since climate change is shrinking the burn window while simultaneously making conditions more dangerous and unpredictable, we’re forced to get creative with ways to get fire on the ground, and one of the most consistent suggestions I’ve heard of is growing seasons burns.

Burning in the growing season is testy. New growth means less mobility, more smoke, and less intensity. They’re also just more uncomfortable, as the summer heat doesn’t allow the same relief from the flames that the cool air of spring or fall does. Research does show that residence time during growing season burns is higher, meaning we can get even better fire effects, specifically in the realm of controlling invasive species. Though they come with their own suite of difficulties, growing season burns are an excellent, relatively easily implementable way to get make more burns happen. There is almost universal consensus that growing season burning can be an effective tool under the right conditions, and a paper I read this morning backed the idea that dormant season burning is just as effective as growing season burning, although the general thesis of the paper seemed to be that a single burn was relatively ineffective at increasing sapling yields in oak-hardwood forests (though the paper admits multiple burns over an extended period of time might be more beneficial).

Below are tons of papers I found on the topic of growing-season burning. Suffice it to say, we’re going to need more research to better determine the effectiveness of those kinds of burns on a variety of different types of plants and ecosystems. The bottom line is that growing season burning is effective, though perhaps not in the same ways as dormant season burning. The fires it produces are lower intensity, potentially have a higher residency, and are actually a part of the normal fire regimen for some ecosystems. The answer is the same as it is in so many areas of fire: it depends. Using growing season burns can be a great idea if your burn program needs ways to get more acreage burned. It can be tricky, however, to navigate the obvious difficulties, like smoke and lack of mobility, in addition to the less obvious ones, like avoiding the destruction of wildlife in the area. Check out the articles below, and hopefully you can be more well informed about doing growing season burns in the future.






12/12 - Effects of Burning on Pollinators

12/12 - Effects of Burning on Pollinators

“Overall, our study demonstrates that repeated applications of prescribed fire maintained elevated abundances and diversity of bees and other flower-visiting insects compared to untreated plots, likely due to increased herbaceous plant diversity and enhanced quality of nesting habitat within the understory. Our results also indicate that many flower visitors utilize the midstory of a temperate forest potentially for foraging habitat.”

Burning Issues 5 - February 5th-6th 2019

Hello readers of the Weekly Spark! The Michigan Prescribed Fire Council is excited to invite you to our biggest event of the year: Burning Issues! This annual gathering of land managers, researchers, and fire practitioners is meant as an opportunity for us to share information related to wildland and prescribed fire work, and to enable us to build the connections that will make our work even more beneficial. This year’s Burning Issues is set to be a fantastic one, with tons of speakers from across the country teaming up to create a vibrant and varied assortment of talks, sure to inspire and inform you. The event itself is from February 5th-6th, and takes place at Fort Custer in Galesburg, Michigan. See you there!

Click here to register for Burning Issues 2019!

11/26 - Fire Behavior and Weather Index Systems

Hi all,

A quick post this week about a couple important resources that were recently shared with me, both from the Fire Behavior Field Reference Guide. This guide is published by NWCG and contains an insane amount of information about wildfires, fire factors, fire safety, and other information in about a million different fire-related areas. Seriously, I don’t know how I’ve been working in fire without ever finding this site: it’s gold! Everything I struggled to understand as a newbie is broken down, and dug into with tons of detail. They have maps, charts, graphs, vocabulary, links… Give it a look and dig into the vast collection of information compiled there.

In particular, two parts of the guide stick out, and they’re the two parts that were sent to me by a colleague earlier this week. They’re the Fire Behavior Prediction (FBP) System, and the Fire Weather Index (FWI) System. They were sent to me in relation to a little project MPFC is working on with MNFI (Michigan Natural Features Inventory) to get prescribed fire into their invasives monitoring app, MISIN (Michigan Invasive Species Information Network). That reminds me, if you’re a Michigan person, you should undoubtedly download this app, it lets you report invasive species and collects the reports in an easily accessible and searchable database that can be used by professionals to track the spread of invasvies. But I digress: I’m supposed to be talking about fire!

I’ll post a couple images from these resources, but I truly recommend you give them a look. It’s all the information you’re used to hearing about in fire, but in far greater detail. If you haven’t already, give those links a click and check out some of the data they’re working with. Who knows, you might learn a thing or two!


11/19 - Updates on Camp Fire

The Camp Fire has been burning for 11 days now, and with just under a thousand people still missing, it’s a nightmare that refuses to end. As of this morning’s Calfire report, 77 people are dead, 15,850 structures are destroyed, and the incident is at 66% containment. Pacific Gas and Electric co. reported a malfunction of a power line at 6:15am, and 14 minutes later there were reports of fire. Within an hour there were already structures on fire, and the most destructive fire in California’s history was unfolding.

462 miles to the south, the very same day, the Woolsey fire began at 2:30pm near the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. After killing 4 people and destroying 1,841 structures, the fire is finally at 94% containment, as of today at 7am. There’s a bit of a problem with the fact that the fire began near a previous nuclear research facility that’s already undergone large-scale cleaning. Officials are overwhelmingly convinced that the fire will have no impact on the health of residents of the area, but nonetheless, it’s cause for concern.

Below are pertinent links, so you can stay up to date on everything happening in the fires. As always, follow all evacuation orders and stay vigilant. This caliber of burning is certainly not normal, but it’s looking like it’s quickly becoming the new normal.

L.A. Times Play-by-play for Camp Fire

Calfire Report for Camp Fire

L.A. Times Story on Woolsey Fire

Calfire Report for Woolsey Fire

Side-by-side Satellite View of Before and After Woolsey Fire

11/12 - West of Here

11/12 - West of Here

We’re seeing some truly terrifying fires right now, including the Camp fire, which has claimed 44 lives and is now on record as the most dangerous fire in California’s history. It’s wiped towns off the map, caused widespread property and structural damage, and has caused thousands of lives to be forever changed. We have a duty to learn from our history, to look back with a critical eye and change our behavior based on what has and hasn’t worked. Suppressing fire has not worked. Treating our forests as infallible resources has not worked. It’s time to step up and take action, let the research dictate our path, and work our tails off to protect our planet, our forests, and ourselves.

11/5 - Legislation and Fire

11/5 - Legislation and Fire

Now, more than ever, it seems like politics is at the forefront of our society. Decisions are made every day that affect millions of people, and the only thing we can do to affect those decisions is vote for people who will decide to push for the things that we want. Now that I’m done soap-boxing, I think it’s been especially interesting to see how the political climate can affect the way environmental work gets done. There’s a surfeit of willing, dedicated people who would gladly spend every waking moment of their lives working to protect our planet. The problem is letting them do that while making enough money to have their basic needs met. This is the issue: getting politicians to value environmental work enough to budget for it. There have been a few moments in Michigan where it truly felt like our politicians listened to the needs of those doing environmental work in the state.

10/29 - Differences in Smoke from Prescribed Burning and Wildfire

10/29 - Differences in Smoke from Prescribed Burning and Wildfire

“We don’t have a choice: We can use prescribed burning that will reduce future risk of fires or we can have wildfires that will produce smoke and other hazardous pollutants, destroy homes and habitats for wild plants and animals.”

10/22 - Seasons

Earlier today I stumbled across a story about burning in Northern Michigan, from the Petoskey news. The story is from this past May, and in it they talk about the difficulty in burning with snow still on the ground. Climate change means that burning, an already seasonally-specific activity, is becoming much less predictable, and could soon face new weather-related challenges. If winter snaps directly into summer we’ll see far less of the cold and dry conditions we need for spring burning. If summer snaps directly into winter we’ll see less fall burning too. This could force us to do more growing season burning, which can be beneficial but is much more difficult to plan and execute than traditional spring/fall burning. Growing season burns are less broadly applicable as they have less of a benefit for prairies (since they’re too greened out to burn) and tend to be more useful for invasives management. There are ups and downs to this kind of burning, but in general it’s seen as being more difficult.

These are the sorts of conversations we’re going to start having: conversations where we come to grips with what our ecosystems will start to look like in the future, and how our management tactics are going to shift to accommodate those changes. Maybe, in the warmer future, burning season will be a year-round affair. Maybe it’ll be so wet that burns can only happen every once in a blue moon. Or maybe, we’ll start working against climate change, stabilize our CO2 output, and burn season will look like it always has. But that’s probably my obscene optimism clouding my vision.

9/24 - A Call to Action for Clean Air

I’ve been coughing more lately, and I’ve heard it’s related to the wildfires out west. Reducing the size of wildfires is not only good for wildlife, but for humans! Reducing the amount of smoke in the air is good in just about every way, and this article dives into some of the ins and outs of reducing smoke.

9/17 - A Shift Towards Prescribed Burning

As someone who works in prescribed fire, I always have my ear to the ground as far as public perception of burning goes. It’s an important factor: knowing how to manage PR before, during, and after a fire can drastically affect the public’s interest in burning, their willingness to allow burning to occur, and can even end up affecting a burn program’s very existence. People are as intrigued as they are scared by fire, and it can often be difficult to convince those who don’t understand prescribed fire of it’s importance in ecological restoration work. When they first learn that we’re intentionally starting fires, they can be concerned, fearful, and occasionally will get very angry. With all the mis-information on the internet, it is frustratingly easy for people to read one phony article and immediately become enraged with Rx burns.

Luckily, more people are becoming properly informed rather than misinformed about fire. Every week I see new initiatives to spread the use of fire in the west, new public classes on prescribed fire, and tons of articles simply and effectively explaining why we light fires to fight fires. A shift is happening, undoubtedly spurred by the increase in wildfire frequency and intensity, and it marks a turning point for the public’s perception of Rx burning. Even a decade ago, a burn boss I’m friends with told me she was told by some of her higher ups to stop burning, citing concern about the potential negative impacts. In the years since, she’s seen more burns than ever before on the installation she manages, to great effect. With more evidence of the positive impacts of burning comes more desire and impetus to burn. Awareness truly is the most powerful tool we have to spread fire far and wide.

It’s still an uphill battle. Funding for natural resources management programs are slashed every day. Fires still rage in the west and across the globe. Many people still fully subscribe to Smokey the Bear’s zero tolerance policy on fire. But there’s a shift happening. Slowly and steadily, people in America, Australia, Greece, Sweden, everywhere, are beginning to realize that land management is about more than maintaining pristine environments free from disturbance. Sometimes you need nature to be what it is: messy, violent, uncontrollable, beautiful. Burning is an integral piece of nature that must be preserved and help up with everything we have. It’s truly exciting to see the public at large finally start to understand that.

9/10 - Women in Fire

When I was a kid, I never thought about the fact that my mom always did the housework while my dad worked. I accepted it, I didn’t ever wonder why my mom wasn’t expected to understand plumbing or carpentry, why my dad could get by without understanding how to make lasagna. These expectations of men and women are so deeply ingrained in our society that it takes a deliberate eye, and usually an outside force, to see them. For me that was my mom sitting me down and explaining how much work she does around the house, making me aware of all the time she spent dusting and cleaning and organizing. Once she made me aware, it was impossible to flip the switch back into ignorance. I could see the set of expectations set before her, those placed in front of my father, those given to a 15 year-old (my age at the time), even the things we expected of our dog. It took time for me to understand just how deeply these expectations run, and how much they can affect our choices and our belief in our own abilities.

I was brought into the fire world by a woman, so you could say my views on fire have been upended from the start, and absolutely for the better. The fact is that working in fire has always been seen as a man’s job. The fact is that some 90% of firefighters are men. The fact is that women have and continue to experience huge, disgusting sexism in this field. These are the facts that accompany one harsh reality present in almost all forms of our society: the reality that women aren’t treated the same as men. Especially in physically demanding fields, women aren’t even considered as contenders. They’re seen as inferior, physically incapable, and mentally fragile.

The reality is quite the opposite. Women are immensely capable mental warriors who do more work with less support in almost every field. They deal with terrifying levels sexism in every facet of their lives, and yet are able to perform at unimaginable levels. Women in fire are tough, quick, brave, careful, and (most importantly) able to multitask like no man I know can.

Below is a video by REI about women in fire. I ask that you think about the women in your organization, in your life, and the fact that wherever they are, they are most likely experiencing a large degree of difficulty because of sexist policies, procedures, and people. I ask that you lift these women up, recognize their struggle, and do everything you can to help them. Recognize that they have to work twice as hard, do twice as much, be twice as good just to be recognized as adequate. Talk to them, listen to them, help them. Especially in fire, we need all the help we can get right now. Listening to and working with the women in our organizations will help us be more effective as teams, and will give voice to a wealth of new information and collaboration. Listen to the women you work with!!!

9/3 - California Fire Prevention Bill: Step in the Right Direction?

A new bill was just passed by California's senate allocating $1 billion over the next five years for fire prevention. The bill makes it easier for private landowners to utilize prescribed burning on their properties, and increases the amount of timber they can harvest. Actively managing their historically neglected forests is a huge step for California, but is it enough?





8/27 - Prescribed Burning - An Overview

We talk a lot about prescribed burning on this site. We even explain it in more than a few different ways. But I still think it's important for us to make sure you guys understand burning as well as you can, especially if you're interested in starting to burn yourselves. This week's post is simply a link to a fact sheet made by the Indiana DNR, all about prescribed fire. It's an excellent rundown of the benefits, dangers, and realities of burning, and I would venture to say it could be a great impetus to help someone who wants to burn become someone who burns.

Give it a look! Let us know in the comments what you think about this article. Was it helpful? Confusing? We're always happy to hear from all you burners out there.


8/20 - Mendocindo complex

8/20 - Mendocindo complex

The Mendocino complex is currently burning approximately .4% of the land mass of the entire state of California. While this is a terrifying number, it's important for us to be able to look at it objectively and try to learn as much as we can from it. How can we work to prevent these kinds of things from happening in the future? How can we allow fire to be a part of the landscape while keeping people safe? 

8/13 - Wildfires are only getting worse, so what can we do?

It's been all over the news lately: these huge fires in the west that stay in the cultural consciousness just long enough for the next massive fire to erupt. It's troubling to see a near-unending stream of impossible-to-contain blazes arise seemingly out of nowhere.  Unfortunately, those of us with a background in the environment understand that these fires aren't coming out of nowhere. These fires are undoubtedly the result of the warmer and drier conditions caused by global climate change. It's frustrating to see a back-and-forth in the news, between people working in and studying fire in California, and those in the President's administration. A meteorologist will say there is an "undeniable link to climate change", and the next week the Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, claims that "This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management."

He certainly has a point, but it's a woefully ignorant bait-and-switch. As a result of the Smokey the Bear campaign, fire all but disappeared from many of the fire-dependent ecosystems in the west. For decades, zero tolerance on fires meant no prescribed burning, no real way to reduce fuel loads, no other large scale method of actively managing these fire-dependent forests. While actively managing these forests with prescribed fire would have meant these fires would have been far easier to manage, it truthfully wouldn't have done enough to make the frequency of fires we're seeing now any lower. That is solely the result of increasing temperatures, which whisk away moisture and make it far easier for fuels to ignite. 

We've seen the impacts all across the world. Greece had the biggest fire Europe has seen in a century, which killed 74 people. Sweden had to request international assistance to control their fires. British Colombia had to call in hundreds of firefighters from around the world to assist in their hundreds of current wildfires. In Australia, bushfires are increasing in number and intensity. No matter where you go, you'll see the effects of climate change, and their undeniable impact on the presence of wildfires.

So what can we do? It's a massively intimidating question since we rarely see any individual work done to prevent wildfires, since everything is done through government agencies staffed by well-trained firefighters. While anyone without training should absolutely stay off the fireline, it doesn't mean you can't help spread awareness about prescribed fire as a prevention tactic, or simply about the relationship between climate change and wildfires. Increasing public awareness of climate change, as well as public understanding of the positive impacts of burning, means more people will favor active steps being taken to prevent wildfires. People supporting things like prescribed fire means (ideally) that our elected representatives will also support more methods of forest management, which will give them more funding and therefore make these methods more impactful.

We as individuals can also begin to implement prescribed burning on our properties, as a way to protect our own property as well as surrounding properties from wildfires. We can work to ensure our homes have buffers around them, spaces where nothing could possibly ignite and carry (or radiate) fire to our homes. We can be vocal about our acknowledgement of climate change, and adamant in our actions to prevent further wildfires. We can remind people to check their local fire weather before burning brush piles, help neighbors make their properties fire-ready, and keep our families prepared in case a wildfire does ever make it to our homes. There are many things we can do! We just have to start doing.