Experts Talk Safety Ahead of Prescribed Burn Season


Late March into April is a common time for grass or tree burns in central Nebraska, and with a few examples of these kinds of fires getting out of control the past several weeks, officials are talking safety ahead of the burn season.

Range Management Specialist Dave Carr says just calling a fire a "control burn" is a misnomer, because there's a difference between burning a pile of trees, getting rid of trash, or clearing pastureland. But he says the one thing all those burns should have in common is safety first.

"In order for us to communicate clearly between producers, burn bosses, and fire departments we need to be pretty descriptive in our language and term ‘control burn' is kind of a catch-all term that can mean different things to different people," says Carr.

Carr says prescribed burns are just that – prescription burns that can offer big benefits for landowners, like more native grasses that produce more forage in the summer and fall, and help get rid of common problems like the Eastern Red Cedar trees.

But burning can also be dangerous if it's attempted without safety in mind and a solid plan in place.

"The reason that we adhere strictly to that prescription is to yield moderate fire behavior that we can control with our fire trucks and keep the project safe and avoid wildfires that way," says Carr.

The Central Platte Natural Resources District is offering tips on their website to prevent runaway fires.

"If you're burning tree piles you have to remove any fuel from around the pile that could allow the fire to creep out and escape and you either have to have snow cover or wet conditions. You should attend it at all times and extinguish the pile just as soon as you can," says Carr.

Carr and Central Platte NRD Prescribed Burn crew will burn a Merrick County field in the next few weeks, but are already preparing with a mowed boundary line around the grass and trees to be burned.

It can be either a mowed line or a disced line and that really helps our fire trucks to control the fire," he says.

Carr says hiring a burn crew or taking a training class will help ensure that enough water and fire trucks are on scene, and he says communicating with the local fire chief is critical.

"If you're thinking about doing a fire, I think you should get training and make sure that you have the proper equipment and don't attempt to do a burn unless you're formally trained and have quite a bit of experience," he says.

Carr sums up a safe prescribed burn in three rules: 1) the boundary line, 2) having a knowledgeable crew, and 3) waiting for the right weather conditions.

To learn more about training sessions or getting a burn crew, contact your local NRD, the Central Platte NRD, the Prescribed Burn Task Force, Pheasants Forever or the NRCS.

Click HERE for more tree pile burning safety tips from the Central Platte NRD.