Here is my response: If you’re looking for a good primer on how to conduct a small prairie fire, I recommend the booklet by Wayne Pauly titled How to Manage Small Prairie Fires. That is the way I learned. But if you can hire someone, take a look at the DNR website. You may find a glossary of contractors for prescribed burns. Or how about this? Do a Google search for “How do you find a contractor for prescribed burns in (your location).”
Burning My Prairie
I don’t think I’ve written about my experience with burning my prairie. Remember that Wild Ones recommends that you burn only one-quarter of your planting annually, rather than the whole site or garden. By doing so, you retain the rest of your dormant prairie plants as habitat for overwintering pollinators, other insects, and small mammals.
Please also be mindful of the need to follow your municipality’s guidelines or ordinances regarding burning. I pay a small annual fee for the privilege of burning my prairie. Some municipalities do not allow burning. In that case, if the prairie debris is still standing come spring, you may wish to cut it down and rake it off the site. In the areas that I do not burn, we simply trample the debris to the ground, allowing it to break down from the weather elements. But if you are not able to burn on a regular basis, you may find removing the thatch from the site from time to time is worthwhile so it doesn’t build up so densely as to impede sunlight from reaching the ground.
My personal prairie planting is approximately 150 feet by 50 feet, and we maintain mowed trails throughout, which we from time to time switch out to other locations. These mowed trails are the perfect firebreaks for conducting a controlled burn. Each of the sections we’ve cut into the habitat are small and easily monitored during a burn. I am always amazed by the return of species I haven’t seen for awhile after a burn.
Fire is a natural process. Natural landscapers recreate its effects with controlled burns (also called prescribed burns) in order to reduce thatch or leaf-litter buildup, to fight invasive species, return select chemicals to the soil, and to encourage propagation of some species. To become familiar with the experience, you would do well to volunteer to assist a burn at a nature center or help when a Wild Ones member is conducting a burn, where you can learn about wind conditions, firebreaks, and extinguishing tools. Wear natural-fiber clothing; nylon has a low melting point. Before conducting a burn, you should check with local fire officials about permits or other regulations. Sometimes a fire department will monitor a prescribed burn, either as a training exercise or just to evaluate whether future burns will require monitoring.
Once you invite your neighbors over for a burn party on your property, they’ll get a feel for the heat intensity of a grass fire, which is relatively low and brief as compared to fires from other fuel sources. To make the fire look more tame, cut down the vegetation prior to the burn. This will keep the flames lower to the ground.
Fires do cause some air pollution, but much of the visible smoke is actually steam released by the vegetation. Controlled burns should be done when the air is neither stagnant nor too gusty. A burn emits fewer volatile organic compounds than a gas-powered mower making weekly cuts on the same size property. Where possible, burn only one-quarter of your planting each year to maintain habitat for overwintering pollinators.
Here is the link to Wayne Pauley’s free booklet How to Manage Small Prairie Fires.