Friends of Nachusa Grasslands PrairiE-Update
What We Do at Nachusa Grasslands, Fire
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One of the goals of the Friends of Nachusa Grasslands is to conduct and encourage stewardship at Nachusa Grasslands.  This PrairiE-Update on Prescribed Fire is the second in our "What We Do at Nachusa Grasslands" series.
At Nachusa Grasslands, specific areas of the preserve are intentionally ignited each year in a process known as prescribed fire. Burning helps to promote species diversity by removing dead vegetation and controlling invasive shrubs and trees. Fire also stimulates new plant growth and returns nutrients to the soil. Early season species grow well in burned areas, because ground exposed to sunshine warms up earlier. Beneficial soil microbe activity is also accelerated by higher temperatures.
Prescribed burning requires detailed planning, expert leadership, and a highly trained fire crew.

All members must take a wildfire management course, pass a fitness test, and attend a hands-on workshop each year.
Safety and control are the most important elements of any prescribed burn. Weather and ground conditions as well as available personnel and equipment are always considered before any fire is undertaken.
According to the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation, “A typical burn begins with lighting a backfire along the downwind perimeter of a burn. A backfire moves slowly and with relatively low flames because it burns into the wind. When the backfired portion of the burn is safe, flank fires are generally lit, beginning at the backfire along burn perimeters parallel with the wind. Flank fires have moderate flame heights and speed because they move perpendicular to the wind. When the back and flank portions of the fire are safe, a head fire is typically lit to quickly consume the remaining fuel. A head fire moves relatively fast with longer flames because it burns with the wind.” (
Nachusa's prescribed fire season usually takes place in October, November, March, and April. We typically burn about half of Nachusa's acreage, leaving the remainder of the preserve as a refuge for native insects, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals.
Although we have two fire seasons, the vast majority of our burns are in the spring, because the vegetation is drier and our schedule is less crowded.  Several prescribed fires can take place within a one- or two-week period.
As fall brings our annual Autumn on the Prairie celebration as well intensive seed collecting, most of our October and November prescribed fires focus on preparing former agricultural fields for prairie restoration.
After the harvest, we burn the corn stubble so that the seeds we plant will make contact with the soil.
To view a video of a prescribed fire filmed by The Nature Conservancy at Nachusa Grasslands in 2011 and learn more, see
Photos by John Heneghan, Dee Hudson, and Charles Larry
Our mailing address is:
Friends of Nachusa Grasslands
8772 S. Lowden Road
Franklin Grove, IL 61031

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