One area of interest that is almost completely ignored by preppers is the role of fire in nature. This tool is largely ignored for it’s potential benefit, and only acknowledged when “wild” fire becomes a threat.
On the nightly news you hear a pattern each year with a small space of time where they talk about prescribed burning (using fire as a land management tool.) As the seasons dry out, they go into stories of raging wildfires. And finally they usually end with more stories of prescribed burning (Rx fire.) Some seasons are longer than others, and drought makes it seem like the cycle will never move on.
But when things are good, the cycle is pretty standard. Rx fire, fire season, Rx fire. And most preppers see fire on the news, and leave it there. Unless their home is threatened, they never consider the benefits of occasional fire in the ecosystem.
Native Americans and use of fire
This cycle is nothing new. Native Americans were the first land managers on this continent to use fire. And most sources agree that there were several reasons for what they did. According to Gerald Williams, historical analyst for the USDA Forest Service Native Americans used fire for the following purposes:
- Hunting- Fire would drive game into small unburned areas where they were easily taken, or over cliffs or rivers or lakes etc. It was also used to collect insects.
- Crop management- Burning was used to harvest crops, and to improve growth and yields.
- Fireproof area- Burning out a buffer around medicinal plants and settlements kept wildfires from threatening in season.
- Pest Management- Fire was used to reduce insects, snakes, and rodents as well as mistletoe.
- Warfare and Signals- Not only smoke signals, fire was also used but to deprive an enemy of a hiding place.
- Clearing paths- Trail management was accomplished with fire.
- Felling trees- One method involved drilling holes in the tree and putting charcoal inside.
- Improving Nature- Fire was used to clear brush from riparian areas and marshes for new grasses and sprouts.
So fire played a big role in the lives of folk who lived very close to the land. They didn’t run out to extinguish any spot of flame, but worked to take advantage of it as best they could, even to the extent of adding fire back into the environment when needed.
Fire in a post collapse society
In a potential world where there is no fire department to respond, maybe we should consider learning to do the same. When there is no chainsaw, fire might be the tool that fells trees. While prepping your fields to plant, fire might be the only choice available without equipment. Even protecting your home from future wildfires can be accomplished by the judicious use of fire. (Fire-Wise is a program that teaches you how to prepare your home against wildfires. And many of the steps they recommend are very easy. www.firewise.org)
But if this is something you think you may do, then you have to start now, before there is a collapse to learn how to burn safely, and to establish a fire presence on your land. It will be too late after a world changing event to try to create fire breaks and safely use this tool.
Depending on where you live, or where your bug-out-location is, there is probably a state agency that can assist you with developing a burn plan for your land. And most of them want to do it. If they help you get fire on the ground when it isn’t fire season, then your place will be much less likely to be a problem during fire season.
I would like to give some hard rules for burning that would apply to anyone, but our country is so diverse it is almost impossible to make any sweeping statements that will be true for everyone. But here are a few:
Fires are generally less intense at night, so night time burning can be a good choice for some.
Fire is composed of 3 elements- heat, fuel, oxygen. To change a fire’s behavior or stop it, you must affect one of these three. (Yes there is a fourth but it is more scientific than practical to discuss.) So if you are concerned about a fire’s potential, you might mow a pasture before you burn it, to rearrange the fuel, or burn it on a cooler day, with less wind.
As the day warms, humidity drops, and fire gets more intense.
Barriers can be anything that keeps the fire from spreading. So a cattle path can be used in the right conditions, but a highway may not be enough in bad conditions.
In many ecosystems, fire is not only acceptable, it is part of the foundation. Depriving the environment of it will cause lasting harm. There are millions of acres of pine trees that are standing dead due to pine beetles. The pine beetles can not bore into healthy trees with thick bark. Fire cause thickening of the bark. So by keeping fire out of the woods, eventually bad things happen.
Many plants and animals will go extinct if fire is not included in the process of seasons. These include the scrub jay, the gopher tortoise, the sand pine, and several other examples.
Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t make the following statement. Please remember that fire is almost always a lot easier to start than to extinguish, so consult a professional until you become proficient. Each year many firefighters risk their lives to protect home, property and lives because of natural fire, and quite often because of prescribed fire that has escaped control of the burner.
This is an awesome tool, but it is one that must be developed. You need to do the prep work on the land, and on yourself to be able to use this tool wisely.
Acknowledgment: Much of the article above is written from knowledge and information I have gained over a career working in emergency response. The classes I have attended, and individuals I have learned from are really staggering. I have been blessed. However, in preparing specific information regarding how exactly different groups of Native Americans used fire, one article I leaned heavily on, and did reference in the body above is REFERENCES ON THE AMERICAN INDIAN USE OF FIRE IN ECOSYSTEMS, compiled by Gerald W. Williams, Ph.D. Historical Analyst, USDA Forest Service Washington, D.C., June 12, 2003. Found on www.wildlandfire.com