Protect Pastures from Wildfire

Protect Pastures from Wildfire

 19 October 2007

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Corpus Christi, USA — A Texas Cooperative Extension range expert saidpastures need protection from wildfire.

Dr. Wayne Hanselka, Extension range specialist here, said all that is neededto touch off a fire when conditions are dry is an ignition source – acigarette or a spark from a welder, power lines or a catalytic converter.

“Over the years, land managers have tended to neglect protectivemeasures on the land,” Hanselka said. “Precautionary measures, such asfire guards, particularly in more fire-prone areas, aren’t as common as theyshould be. However, it’s never too late to install measures designed to protectpastures and facilities from this very real threat.”

The most common protection against wildfire is fire guards around and throughpastures, he said. The guards form a break that keeps fuel from a fire. A fireguard can help keep fire in or out of a pasture, or keep it contained withinsmaller blocks of land. The fire lines need to be wide enough to slow the fireand keep it contained, he added.

“Fire guards may take several forms and several types may be usedtogether,” Hanselka said. “The more permanent types are donemechanically, often with a disc, a blade or a plow. Grasses are removed orturned under the soil so that bare soil is exposed. Any grasses occurring on theline could form a ‘bridge’ that allows fire to creep across the line. Thesefire guards need to be at least three times as wide as the adjacent vegetationis tall (3 ft. high grasses = 9-10 feet or more of fire guard). A flame frontshould approach the guard, lay down over it, and not touch the far side of theguard.”

Temporary guards can be constructed by mowing excess fuel, he said. Theremaining stubble will still burn, but not with the intensity or rate of spreadsupported by higher fuel loads. A strip is mowed around a pasture with a discedor bladed line next to it. Another strip is mowed to eliminate tall grasses fromthe plowed strip.

“Another combination is to use two lines – mechanical, wet lines usingwater, and/or chemical lines (a super phosphate slurry) – at an appropriatedistance apart,” he said. “The space in between is then burned out.This effectively removes any fuel for a distance away from the perimeter of thepasture. It is effective for season-long protection. Of course, the burning ofthese ‘blacklines’ should be done when conditions allow them to be safelyburned. Widths vary with the kind and amount of fuel present. Black lines shouldbe at least 100 feet wide in grasslands with oak or mesquite brush. In volatilebrush such as cedars, the black line probably should be at least 500 feet wide.”

Fire guards provide an added bonus, Hanselka said, by doubling as food plotsfor wildlife or forage for livestock. Disced fire guards can be fertilized andplanted to cool-season annual grasses and forbs, he added. The green vegetationwill not burn and provides food for a variety of wildlife species.

Many fire guard options are available, so each landowner must decide on thetype and design that best fits his situation, Hanselka said. Information onprotecting property from wildfire is available from Extension agents andspecialists.

“When drought conditions worsen, protect  rangeland pastures andfacilities before it’s too late,” Hanselka said.

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