Here is an easy to follow checklist of items to consider when planning/conducting/contracting a prescribed burn.  Click an item on the checklist to view more specific information.  If you’d like to save or print this list, click here to download a PDF version.

The Cole-Crutchfield Forest Fire Law on Arkansas.gov is the main law regarding prescribed fire use.  A portion of this law is seen below.  The Arkansas Forestry Commission’s fire laws page discussed the burning laws as well.

[ARK. Code § 20-22-302. Notice of Intent to Burn Forest Vegetation]

(a) Any person in this state who desires to burn forest vegetation, including debris from land clearing shall notify the Arkansas Forestry Commission of the person’s intention to burn. Notification of the proposed burning shall include the time and location of the intended burning, and other facts which the person or the Arkansas Forestry Commission may deem relevant.

(b) The landowner or other person having charge of the land or his/her agent, shall be present and in attendance at the time of the burning.

Before conducting a prescribed burn, management goals and objectives should be determined first.  Objectives should be what you can achieve in a single burn.  Many objectives go towards completing management goals, which may be the end product of a year, season, or weekend.  Objectives do not have to be complicated.  Simple objectives need only to be written so it is known what a “good burn” is and what it is not.  Objectives can also help determine what conditions may be needed or avoided to work towards those goals.  Understand that 1 burn does not usually achieve all the management goals.

AFC must be notified prior to the burn by calling their toll free number: 800-830-8015.  It is also respectful to inform local sheriff departments and/or VFD’s, so they know to be on alert in case something goes wrong.  Visit the Arkansas Forestry Commission’s “Protect Your Forest” page for more information.

It is illegal to conduct any burning in a county where a burn ban has been issued without the permission of the county judge.  Be responsible, respect burn bans.  The Arkansas Forestry Commission website has a Burn Ban Map of counties where burn bans are in place.

Writing a burn plan is a step-by-step procedure needed before burning to remind you of all the things to consider, and to provide a place where important phone numbers and maps can be organized.  The Arkansas Prescribed Fire Network has an Example Burn Plan. Other, equally good examples may exist elsewhere.

Firelanes should consist of unburnable material (dirt, road, water, green grass w/no thatch) wide enough to prevent the fire from escaping around the entire perimeter of the burn unit.  In woods, a 6-8 ft wide break, and in grass, 25’ of mowed area with 3 to 4 ft of bare dirt on the far side, is a minimum.  The Florida Division of Forestry Fireline Construction has document on Best Management Practices (BMP’s). You click here to view the file. Firelines can be constructed by hand using chainsaws and leaf blowers, mowers, trimmers and handtools.  Often bulldozers are used by contractors (and can make excellent breaks), but pushed material should go to the outside of the desired burn unit, if at all possible.  If piles of pushed forest on the inside of a burn unit get engaged, they  can project hot embers outside the firelines, kill trees that they are pushed against, and will likelly burn for several days.  Unless they are caught very early, there is usually not enough water resources on a prescribed burn to simply put them out (several hundreds of gallons of water to extinguish completely).  If pushing material to the outside is not possible, scattering the debris, pushing it well into the burn unit, or not pushing large trees can help reduce their negative potential.

Your neighbors will be interested in where your fire and smoke are headed!  Please inform them of your intentions and planned burn date.

These do not have to be sophisticated, but a rendering of your burn unit should be passed out to everyone helping on the burn. Important points like houses, burn unit corners, and water supplies should be labeled so everyone is aware of significant progress or potential trouble spots. Google Maps provides map-making options, and there are several commercial products out there to choose from if you like.  However, an accurate drawing can work just as well.

Anything within the area to be burned that could be dangerous for those conducting the burn should be considered.  This includes major hazards like propane tanks or simple hazards like snakes or the heat.  These should be explained to everyone participating on the burn, so they everyone can be made aware and put on their guard.

Especially if you have little to no experience with prescribed fire, you should make yourself aware of potential height of the flames, the speed at which they will move against and with the wind, and the amount of heat that could be generated.  Complicated programs may be found and downloaded at www.fire.org. A paper calculation can be found HERE. Neither method is particularly easy, and most of the calculations are designed to predict how a wildfire could behave in the conditions you enter, but they can help you model what conditions you should and should not have to meet your management goals.  If you want to conduct your own prescribed fires, a good article to download/read is Fire Prescriptions for Maintenance and Restoration of Native Plant Communities.

It was written with Oklahoma in mind, but proves very helpful in understanding how fire may behave during most conditions in Arkansas.  Experience, however, will provide the most invaluable information.  Start small, and never light more than you have the ability to put out! Also, the Forestry Encyclopedia can provides lots of helpful information on fire in Southern forests.

Smoke management is one of the most important, yet under-planned parts of prescribed burning.  Smoke has the capacity to affect more people than any other aspect of prescribed burning.   Understanding your fire behavior and its effects is only half the story, you must also understand what you want your smoke to do and how best to insure that result. Arkansas’s Smoke Management Guidelines is a product of the Arkansas Prescribed Fire Council and can walk you through understanding your smoke production, direction, and ways to “manage” it impacts.  A downloadable Smoke Management Calculator from AFC can help you determine how much smoke, your burn will produce.  Also check out the online smoke tool V-Smoke. Great tool for determining distance and direction of smoke impacts, as well as potential air quaility issues.

Never, ever burn alone, and always make sure your help knows the plan and hazards as well as you do.  It’s a no-brainer to make sure your help is rested and sober.

The best place to start is the National Weather Service Fire Weather page. You can also skip to the Arkansas Fire Weather page or click the NOAA logo on the left side of this page.  Afterwards, scroll down and click on your county in the state map. For more detailed information check out “Detailed Point Weather Forecasts — How To Get Them When You Need Them” created by the Southern Fire Exchange.

PPE is required for agency professionals and should be considered by landowners who intend to conduct burns themselves.  A list of items can be found here.  Some county conservation offices may allow some of this PPE to be rented or checked out.  Contact your county conservation district for information regarding prescribed fire equipment.  Also, most foresty supply catalogs carry prescribed fire equipment if you’re looking for something specific.

List of recommended equipment:

  • Mobile water-delivery source of at least 50-100 gallons
  • Radios (at least 2)
  • Protective clothing (preferably Nomex, but absolutely no synthetic material, it can melt onto your skin!)
  • First aid kit
  • Weather kit
  • Fire shelters with belt
  • Hand tools (rakes, flappers, axe, hoe, water sprayers)
  • Drip torch (2)
  • 5 gallons of reserve drip torch fuel (3:1 diesel to gasoline)
  • ATV’s staged with water sprayers and/or handtools
  • Chainsaw with appropriate protective equipment
  • Also consider leather gloves, hardhats, goggles, leather boots

Whether you hire someone to conduct your burns for you, or you conduct the burn yourself, no amount of planning can substitute for adequate implementation.  Experience helps tremendously, so consider burning with someone who has done it before, and never try to implement your plan alone.  Even if you know exactly what you’re doing, accidents can happen.  These articles can provide some insight into conducting prescribed fire and should provide good information to cross-reference with your proposed burn area.

Arkansas Prescribed Fire Council Burning Guidelines

Fire Effects in Oklahoma

Fire Prescriptions for Maintenance and Restoration of Native Plant Communities

Prescribed Burning Manual – Indiana

Benefits of Burning on Private Land – Minnesota

Use of Prescribed Fire – Missouri

Prescribed Burning In Arkansas Forest

Prescribed Fire Associations

Conduct a small test fire before deciding to conduct a burn.  Choose a location in your burn unit that best represents the majority of what you intend to burn, but one that can be easily contained if the behavior does not match your desire or comfort.  All of your help and equipment should concentrate at the test fire in case it must be put out quickly.

Mop-up is simply securing the fire before leaving it.  The extent of mop-up conducted should be discussed before hand by the burn boss based on adjacent fuels and incoming weather patterns.  The idea is to make sure no trees, embers, or unburned fuel can cause the fire to escape when no one is looking over it.  Completely extinguished fuel within 25-50 ft. is a good rule of thumb.  It is also a good idea to re-check the burn unit the following morning to make sure the unit is burned out and secure.

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