- Conducting Prescribed Fires: A Comprehensive Guide
Conducting Prescribed Fires fills a huge void in the prescribed fire literature, that of a practical manual that covers an introduction to all the major issues associated with the use of prescribed (Rx) fire in ecological restoration and management. Many existing books on wildland fire management focus either on ecology or methods; none combine both at the breadth of information that Weir has provided.
Largely written for beginning Rx fire crew members, as well as ranch and wildlife managers in the southern plains and southeastern forests, Weir's book is broad enough to apply to nearly any landscape where fire is an ecologically important disturbance. It can serve as an excellent introduction to the many factors that go into implementing and accomplishing land management objectives using Rx fire. This book would be an ideal read for those just beginning to explore the use of Rx fire in restoration and management, though experienced managers or wildland firefighters will probably find at least some information here that they may not have known.
Weir starts with an overview of many of the reasons Rx fire is implemented: for improved forage in ranching, improved wildlife habitat for wildlife management, cheaper management for forestry, and improved safety in the wildland-urban interface. Interestingly, although Weir has many years of experience working with restorationists across the southern plains, he does not cover the reasons for using Rx fire for ecosystem/ecological restoration in his overview. To be fair, such an overview could encompass a book in and of itself, though a few paragraphs with classic examples (e.g., tallgrass prairies, longleaf pine, etc.) would have been nice to see.
From this overview, the book proceeds to cover the basics of law, liability, and policy, perhaps the single most important group of information for someone involved in or considering implementing Rx fire. While the information and examples are specific to the United States, the general lessons are essential and universal. As Weir notes in the introduction (p. 11), "If you were asked in a court of law why you were setting fires, could you explain your actions in a way that a jury could understand?" Chapters 2 and 3 go a long way toward helping you understand the legal context for why you could end up in court, even if you had met all your policy requirements. These chapters are followed by one on public relations, perhaps the most important thing to know once you've decided to implement Rx fire—sometimes the public can drive your decisions in ways you didn't expect, particularly because of the pervasive [End Page 412] influence of Smokey Bear. Although I have been an Rx fire crew member and burn boss, I learned some new information from these sections, and I recommend these chapters for experienced Rx fire personnel.
The bulk of the book covers the basics of all of the nuts and bolts that go into implementing Rx fire, including weather, fire behavior, prescriptions, plans, safety, firebreaks, equipment, ignition devices and techniques, smoke management (which includes useful references to the US's Clean Air Act), and mop-up. Reading through these chapters will provide a nice introduction to the many factors that go into a successful burn and can also provide a refresher for those who've had training or experience in the past but need to get reacquainted with the options. Those experienced with Rx fire will find little new information here, and much of the information in these chapters can be found in a variety of the U.S. National Wildfire Coordinating Group's publications (many of them can be found at www.nwcg.gov/pms/pms.htm), which are often available online at no charge. However, one of the strengths of Weir's book is that he combines all of this widely-spread information into a single, short text, which is ideal for those new to the use of Rx fire.
Weir concludes the book with...