Today’s the day! The staging area is bustling with activity as fire engines, water trucks, and fire professionals arrive and begin to assemble and ready their gear, tools, and equipment. The Burn Boss has been hard at work since early in the morning finalizing burn day preparations, confirming weather and smoke dispersion forecasts, and relaying plans to fire personnel and the public to ensure all the moving parts of a safe and successful prescribed fire are in place.
At 9:00am, all fire personnel on the prescribed burn gather for the morning briefing. In the briefing, the Burn Boss reviews the Incident Action Plan for the prescribed burn, which outlines every aspect of the operational plan for the prescribed fire. This includes introductions to the key leaders on the prescribed burn, such as the Firing Boss and Holding Boss, a roll call to verify the headcount and ensure the necessary personnel and equipment are on hand to conduct the prescribed burn, and a breakdown of assignments for everyone on hand. The morning briefing also includes a review of the day’s weather forecast for the exact area where the prescribed burn is to take place, the prescribed burn objectives, maps illustrating the prescribed burn unit and control lines, the communications plan and handheld radio frequencies to be used during the prescribed burn, and medical plan should an emergency arise.
Once the Burn Boss completes their briefing, the Firing Boss and Holding Boss conduct their own briefings with their assigned crews to detail their respective operational plans. After all the briefings are completed, personnel collect their gear, tools, and equipment and move to assigned locations to prepare for the prescribed fire to begin.
What Happens on the day-of a Prescribed Fire?
After the morning briefing, and with all fire personnel in place, the Burn Boss calls fire dispatch on the radio to inform them that the Firing Boss is preparing to ignite a test fire. This involves igniting a small area along a control line in a pre-determined location to verify that conditions on-the-ground are still within prescription. After evaluating how the test fire is burning, the Burn Boss makes a final determination to either continue with the prescribed burn as planned, to adjust strategy based on what they observe, or to terminate the prescribed burn entirely. If the decision is made to continue, the Burn Boss notifies fire dispatch that the prescribed fire operation is beginning.
At this point, the Firing Boss directs the ignitions crew to begin applying fire to the unit per the ignitions plan discussed in the morning briefing. Members of the ignitions crew utilize their knowledge of fire ecology and fire behavior, along with specially designed tools, such as drip torches, to systematically apply strips and dots of fire as they move incrementally across the prescribed burn unit to maintain the desired low-intensity fire. Meanwhile, the holding crew follows the ignitions crew along the control lines of the prescribed fire, using hand tools, such as shovels, hoes, and Pulaski’s, along with fire engines, hoses, and water to keep the fire contained and under control. In the event that an ember ignites a spot fire outside the control lines, members of the holding crew respond immediately and extinguish the flames.
Throughout the prescribed fire, the Burn Boss coordinates all aspects of the operation in close coordination with the Firing Boss and Holding Boss, who direct their crews to make necessary adjustments based on their observations of fire behavior and fire effects, as well as feedback from the Fire Effects Monitor.
During the prescribed fire, the Burn Boss may also choose to utilize additional personnel in strategic locations near the prescribed fire, such as roads or trailheads, to share information with curious or concerned community members, set up traffic control signs, direct traffic, or keep the public safe by preventing them from getting too close to the prescribed fire.
Once the ignitions crew have applied fire throughout the prescribed burn unit and holding crews have secured the perimeter, the Burn Boss notifies fire dispatch that the prescribed fire is completed.