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Prescribed Fire Safety Tips

By Johnathan Sutton

With the summer prescribed fire season in full swing, it is a good time to review some safety tips so everyone gets to go home at the end of the day.

Safety is 100% the most important aspect of Rx burning. You and your crewmembers have the obligation of doing everything in your power to keep yourself, everyone and everything around you safe.

After reading through various articles at the Wildfire Lessons Learned website and other publications, I’ve come up with a list of (in my opinion) 10 most important fire safety tips:

  1. Safety begins with preparation – Having a well thought out and well communicated safety plan is crucial to maintaining an atmosphere of safety.

  2. Plan & Establish LCES (Lookouts, Communication, Escape Routes, Safety Zones) Lookouts: critically positioned; must be able to communicate with personnel; knows, observes and anticipates fire behavior. Communication: have communication plan in place and functional equipment to communicate in place. Escape Routes: Escape routes should be identified and acknowledged by all crewmembers before starting a fire. Safety Zones: Areas big enough that a fire shelter does not need to be deployed.

  3. Do a walk-thru – Before starting the burn, do a complete walk through with crewmembers on the tract of land to be burnt. Be sure to visually locate and point out where the LCES’s are to all crewmembers. Anticipate fire behavior and identify any potential hazards.

  4. Preseason Training – During the off-season, be sure to conduct regular training exercises that will keep crewmembers prepared to handle adverse situations.

  5. Hydrate every hour – Staying properly hydrated and replacing salt and potassium is key to maintaining work capacity and avoiding serious heat stress related incidents.

  6. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) checklist – It is a good idea to have a checklist that will help you keep track of what PPE you will need before going to a burn. At a minimum, PPE should include items such as protective clothing (preferably Nomex, but no synthetic material-it can melt onto your skin!), fire shelters, leather gloves, hardhats, goggles, and leather boots. A short guide to PPE can be found here.

  7. Inspect PPE – Inspect all PPE that has been previously worn before each use for cracks, rips, tears, holes, cleanliness, etc. Replace PPE if cracked, ripped, or torn.

  8. Inspect tools & equipment – Inspect hand tools and power tools for rust, cracks, chips or any sign of wear that may make that tool unsafe before each use. Also, inspect and maintain equipment on a routine basis for best reliability.

  9. Go-No-Go checklist – Create a checklist of items needed and tasks that need to be done in order to conduct the burn. This should also include appropriate weather conditions needed to burn. Making sure the weather conditions are right can be the difference between a successful burn or a wildfire.

  10. Avoid Complacency – Do not let multiple successful burns cause you to become complacent. Throughout the duration of the burn, maintain a heightened sense of awareness at all times. Know your surroundings, be conscious of the presence of dead trees/limbs, stump holes and spot fires.

Remember-never burn alone!

 Johnathan Sutton is a graduate student in the Master’s of Agriculture Extension and Education and program at North Carolina State University.