Students torch earth in name of science

Students torch earth in name of science

6 November 2008

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USA — Ohio State students set fire to five acres of the Gwynne Conservation Area in London, Ohio, last month as part of a lab exercise for a wild-land fire management course.

During the lab, students put their fire knowledge to use as a way to improve and manage wildlife habitat, said Roger Williams, associate professor of forest ecosystem analysis and management.

The course, Environment and Natural Resources 350.02, teaches students the concepts of fire ecology, fire behavior, the benefits fire has on ecosystems and how to use fire as a management strategy, Williams said. The lab portion of the two-part course allows students to gain hands-on experience with fire.

“The class enables [students] to work on prescribed burns as part of ecosystem management,” Williams said. “We also cover safety and how to properly execute a monitored fire.”

Before igniting the fire, students dug a border around the five-acre area to separate what they wanted to burn from what they did not. They ignited the south side of the area, followed by the east and west sides. A steady wind pushed the flames until the entire area was engulfed.

The fire was over in a matter of minutes, Williams said.

“Once there was nothing left to burn, the fire stopped, leaving a total silence,” he said. “It was quite dramatic.”

Including preparations and the mop-up (where students wet down any smoldering areas), the lab took four hours to complete. Marcus Sczesny, a parks and recreation major in the School of Environmental and Natural Resources, said he and his classmates enjoyed creating the prescribed burn despite the hard work it entailed.

“Many of us had to stay close to the fire line to prevent it from getting out of hand,” Sczesny said, “It was very long, hard work but it turned [out to be] exciting and quick-paced once the fire was lit. I don’t think a single student was disappointed.”

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