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Prescribed fire is a great tool to improve the food and cover for a variety of wildlife species on your property. One of the most important aspects of using prescribed fire is making sure the fire is conducted safely. This point cannot be overstated, safe use of prescribed fire is paramount. Beyond taking the appropriate training courses or seeking help from a professional, one the most important aspects of safely conducting a prescribed fire is ensuring you have adequate firebreaks.

Firebreaks can serve multiple purposes related to the safe use of prescribed fire, and can provide additional food and cover for wildlife. The main purpose of firebreaks is to stop the fire from escaping the burn unit, but they also can provide quick and easy movement around the burn unit, help reduce the amount of people required for the burn, and can make igniting the fire safer. Here are a few examples of different types of firebreaks.

Logging Road

This logging road is a good example of an exisitng road that can be used as a firebreak.

Existing roads
Existing roads, whether they are paved, gravel, dirt, or logging roads, can serve as outstanding firebreaks, plus they require very little work to prepare prior to a burn. These are also one of the cheapest options for firebreaks. If you are using gravel, dirt, or logging roads as firebreaks, you need to make sure there is not excessive vegetation or leaf litter in the road. Too much vegetation
on the firebreak could lead to an escape.

Streams, creeks, or other bodies of water
Another cheap and easy option for firebreaks is to use existing streams, river, or bodies of water. If you are using water features as a firebreak, here are some things to consider: is the stream or river wide enough to stop the fire from escaping and can people helping with the fire move easily around, across, or through the stream or river to access various part of the burn unit or to stop an escaped fire?

Crop fields
Crop fields with cool-season grains (wheat, oats, rye) or cover crops can serve as a great firebreak. Crop fields with only soybean or corn stubble should be used with caution, as fire may creep through a field with excessive stubble. For fields with crop stubble, planting the edge of the field in a cool-season crop (wheat, clover, oats, etc.), disking the edge of the field, or wetting the crop stubble are all steps that can used to improve the field as a firebreak

Leaf-Blown Firebreak

This leaf-blown firebreak was only 3-4 feet wide, but it easily stopped the fire in this situation.

Leaf-blown firebreaks
If you are burning in the woods, using a leaf blower to remove leaf litter and expose bare mineral soil is a quick and easy way to create a firebreak. These firebreaks do not need to be as wide as those in an old field or native grass stand because the flame length when burning in the woods is typically much shorter than burning in a field.

Disked firebreaks for multiple purposes
Disking or tilling to expose bare mineral soil is an extremely effective method of creating a firebreak. These breaks can also provide food and/or cover for various wildlife species if managed correctly. Disking the firebreak and then letting the firebreak remain fallow during the growing season creates outstanding cover for brooding turkeys, pheasants, and quail.

You can also plant the firebreaks after disking to create a food plot for various wildlife species. If you disk the firebreaks in the fall and plan to burn in the spring, you can plant the firebreaks with a mix of wheat and crimson clover or a mix of perennial clovers to create a great food plot for deer and turkey. You can also plant the firebreaks with millet, grain sorghum, or sunflowers after you have burned the field in the spring.

Fire creeping

If you use mowed firebreaks you run the risk of fire creeping across the firebreak and escaping, especially if there is too much thatch in the firebreak.

My absolute favorite multiple purpose firebreak is one that is disked in Aug-Sep, planted to winter wheat (40-60 lbs/ac), and then left to remain fallow after the wheat has produced seed. This firebreak effectively stops fire, provide green browse from the fall through the spring, provides seed during the early summer, and provides excellent brood cover throughout the summer and early fall. This is truly an all-in-one firebreak.

Mowed grass firebreak
Mowed grass firebreaks are not ideal, but they can be used in certain situations. If mowed firebreaks are used, you must be sure that there is not excessive thatch built up in the break. Too much thatch will allow the fire to creep across the break and potentially escape. Even on firebreaks without excessive thatch, using water to create a “wet” firebreak is recommended.

No matter which type of firebreak you choose to use, taking the time to make sure the firebreak is adequately installed and is sufficient to stop the fire from escaping will help make the burn safer and will create less headaches for you when conducting the burn.

Additional Resources:
Firebreaks for Prescribed Burning, Oklahoma State University Extension
Prescribed fire: 6 things to consider before you ignite, Got Nature?, Purdue Extension-FNR,
On-line Basic Prescribed Fire Training, Extension, USDA and NIFA
Publications Focus on Plan, Safety of Prescribed Burns, Iowa State Extension,
eFIRE, North Carolina State Extension
Renovating native warm-season grass stands for wildlife: A Land Manager’s Guide, The Education Store, Purdue Extension resource center
Calibrating a No-Till Drill for Conservation Plantings and Wildlife Food Plots, The Education Store

Jarred Brooke, Extension Wildlife Specialist
Purdue Department of Forestry and Natural Resources


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