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Observer at November 2006 Big Basin State Park Prescribed Controlled Burn, plus long-term strategy from George Gray.

Report by J. Zimmerman, with assistance of David Auerbach and Scott Peden. We are very grateful to Tim Hyland for not only being willing to let us observe, but for mentoring us during our visit.

Purpose of prescribed burn

Prescription of prescribed burn

Each burn in a California State Park has a prescription, which should:

Strategy of prescribed burn

George Gray, the ecologist who initially designed the long-term burn plan for Big Basin State Park, tells us:

Unit burn plans follow a general outline that is common for many plans.  
First you decide what you want to accomplish (the objectives), then 
you list all the natural and cultural resources found in the park, 
study the fire history and fire frequency, then describe all the 
things needed to burn.  

A burn plot has roads, trails, and creeks as boundaries, and sometimes we rake 
firelines straight down hills where the roads and trails are difficult to hold.  

Frequency of burns is determined by studying fire scars on trees, and 
an analysis of lightning-caused fires.  

Fire plot sizes are determined by roads, creeks, and trail location, 
and we usually burn the plots that are highest, driest, and downwind first.

What we saw

On November 10th, 2006, David Auerbach reports, the burn boss divided the team into three divisions.

"They did spot burning today ... not building piles ... but burning jackpots and cat faces. [The burn boss indicated] that the burn window was shutting. That they will not come back this year to Big Basin if the rain comes tonight" reported David Auerbach.

Safety aspects

Gear for the firefighter team included a lot of hand tools, such as drip torch and McCloud.

These were the main things they wore:


The next day, after two hair washings and showers I have almost de-smoked my hair, but my to-be-washed clothes and day pack smell rather, um, hellish.

Fire Glossary

cat face (n.)
A scar at the base of a tree. Caused by a previous fire, and more likely to burn in a subsequent fire.

CDF (n.)
California Department of Forestry.

drip torch (n.)
The ignition tool used most. Heavy-duty sealed cylindrical can with a curved output that is lit during work. From this, fuel (usually a mix of gasoline for fast burning plus diesel for a subsequent steadier burn) can be dripped as an accelerant on to what is to be burned, and at the same time set on fire.

hand line (n.)
Perimeter line to a planned burn area; cleared or dug by hand to remove combustible material for two or more feet; intended to be sufficient to stop the path of a ground surface fire.

jack pot (n.)
A localized large fuel burden.

McCloud (n.)
A heavy rake on a medium-sized pole; the rear of the rake is a flat-bladed chopping tool.

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