Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fire In My Palms

Last weekend was a positively perfect weekend for controlled burns, aka prescribed fires. There was almost no wind at all, humidity levels were low, and everything was dry and brownish from the winter's cold snaps.

As soon as I stepped outside Saturday morning, I could smell woodsmoke.
Off in the distance, plumes of whitish smoke rose straight up into a windless sky from large scale professional prescribed burns.

Why should they have all the fun?

I started firing up a plan.

Part of the PFHQ forest consists of a oak, cedar, and palm mix that is heavy with palm. We call it "The Glade", a name from when we first bought the property and had a picnic lunch dreaming of what was to be.

It just seemed kinda gladey doncha know?

Most of my controlled burning takes place in an open grassy area near the garden, but I really wanted to burn down in the glade and conditions were just so perfect ...

So, I linked together about 3 long sections of hose to bring water down to the glade. Then I toted in a variety of tools ... machete, file for machete sharpening, shovel, huge landscaping rake, and of course ... camera and tripod.

Before I burned I used the big rake to delineate the burn area by scraping leaf litter and branches to create a fire break. After raking, I used the machete to whack the sheathing of old frond bases from the sabal palms that grow so thick in this section.
The glade had never been burned in 20 years of living on the land, so a large amount of fuel had built up on the forest floor. Dead palm fronds are especially FLAME-BOYANT in this respect. The brown fronds go up in flames with a WHOOSH and a ball of fire, plus the sabal palm trunk is covered in a dry fabric of palmy stuff that is the perfect tinder.
Every palm is a roman candle just waiting to go off.

I actually use the dead fronds as a poor man's drip torch. I can light the fronds on fire and walk along bouncing the flaming bits here and there to start a line of fire.

The photo above was taken as the sun was setting and shows the actual glade, an open grassy spot surrounded by palms and oaks. Ahead in the center of the photo, you can see the peaked roof of PFHQ.

I'm not going for cleared land or "city park openness", I just want to mimic the natural cycle of fire and growth in my forest. It should be interesting to see who pops up out of the ash this spring.

I did manage to almost have a palm go up like a torch and I blame that squarely on you nice folks. I was so busy looking down while taking pictures for this post, at one point, that I failed to notice that a spark had ignited the fluffy sheathing about halfway up a tall palm.

Luckily, I did catch it in time and really extra luckily, the stream of water from my triple length hose just reached the flames.
We'll talk about head loss due to friction in overly long water hoses another time.

This video does not offer much variety after the first 30 seconds or so. You won't hurt my feelings if you leave early.
Honest ... just a lot of frond whacking.
Nothing to see here folks, move along, move along ...
Tomorrow: Rainbow Springs


Florida Beach Basics said...

glad you knew what you were doing and that the FC homestead is still standing!

threecollie said...

Interesting post indeed. Used to be you could do that up here and my grandpa loved to. Nowadays, the fire department shows up with a truck and puts it out and writes you a ticket. I'll bet your glade will be really nice when it regenerates.

ChrisC and JonJ said...

Nope-can't do that these days in Hillsborough County.Too dry,so people have yards full of dried debris.Go figure....

Dani said...

You should do a few pics every month so we can see the regrowth.

robin andrea said...

Nicely done. Looking forward to the updates on how it looks from time to time. It'll be interesting to see what shows up.

Jenna McKenna said...

love to do that here in the scrub but acres of rosemary + neighbors with flammable wood and trailer homes = risk I won't take.
too bad, because my live oaks and longleaf pines would love it, and it would clear out all those gimpy-looking garbage oaks, pokeweed, and all the other ruderal trash that's clumb up here.

CHEF TROLL said...

Every 20 years is exactly what they recommend in Troll County.

swamp4me said...

It's been a while since we've been able to do any prescribed burning...I miss it. Yours looks like it was a nice clean burn. Good job.

Pam Aries said...

Good to know all went well in the end! Man..I am freezing up here in the Pacific NW and cannot wait til my move to sunny Florida! It snowed yesterday! Yikes!!!! I left South Carolina for a change in the weather and boy I got it!

Doug Taron said...

Looks good! I'm glad that you get to have this kind of fun down there, Given all the rain and flooding that we're having up here at the moment, I wonder if we'll ever get this year's prescribed burns in.

kathy a. said...

as a californian -- used to everything being ready to go up in smoke -- burns seem very alien to me. our own fire department does controlled burns occasionally [not lately, due to drought], and everyone burned fields and whatever when we lived in S.C., but smokey the bear had a powerful message in my youth.

looks like you had the whole thing under control, though. thankfully for my mental health, my husband doesn't have a machete, or there would be one more thing to worry about.

elpbulls said...

Oh man I can't believe i missed that!!!!!

Floridacracker said...

I had a little experience with it in a former career.

More to do too! I'll post later in the season about the changes.

Chris and Jon,
They could wind up like Flagler county in '98!

Will do. Need to burn some more before the rains come.

I'm curious too.

Yeah, that Rosemary is pretty flammable. I'm low enough I don't have any of that.

So I'm right on time. Good.

Very small scale since it's just me on the fireline! Feels good tho.

Brrrr. How long before you get to move?

I saw that on your site. Sounds pretty soggy. You need to check out Julie Zickefoose's website. She has a cool bug about one post back.

Kathy A,
If they did controlled burns wouldn't that prevent some of those wild fires we read about each summer?
And, ahem, every man needs a machete. They are just too cool. I have 3!

Emma Firebug,
You would have loved it ... maybe I'll save a little.

Cathy S. said...

I am so glad I am not your wife. I would have been a nervous wreck. Rainbow Springs...I can't wait!

Floridacracker said...

Cathy S,
She probably feels that way too sometimes.

Julie Zickefoose said...

Were you a firefighter? You sure talk like one. I have made lots of fires within sight of our house. We call them "uncontrolled burns" and they are usually associated with high winds, lots of running around and hyperventilating.

Floridacracker said...

Julie Globetrotter,
Not officially, but I did attend some fire training sessions in the NPS and we did a little burning down in Big Cypress when I was a Ranger.

roger said...

nice bird sounds in the backround.

Floridacracker said...

i noticed that in the bee video too.