Photos of the Week – January 28, 2022

While shivering lightly at my desk this week, I came across some photos of fire that warmed me up a little. I thought maybe others would enjoy that same experience, so I’ll feature some of them today. Most of these were taken with my cell phone at the end of prescribed fires, when operations were winding down and I had a few minutes to savor the completion of safe and successful burn before starting to mop-up the remains. All are photos of fires that are being carefully managed and that were fully contained.

Fire comes with a lot of connotations and emotions, depending upon one’s experiences. It can be destructive and frightening in some situations, but productive and rejuvenating in others. Separate from any of those emotions, I’ve always found flames themselves to be fascinating. I’ve spent a lot of hours staring in wonder at campfires, for example, and I know I’m not alone in that.

In addition to making me feel a little warmer, images like the ones below draw me in because of the complex and dynamic nature of those flames. Even still images of flames have a strong sense of motion embedded within them. …Anyway, I hope these photos make you feel a little warmer, if nothing else. (Apologies to my friends in Australia and other southern hemisphere or equatorial places where ‘feeling warmer’ might not be needed…)

This entry was posted in Uncategorized by Chris Helzer. Bookmark the permalink.

About Chris Helzer

Chris Helzer is the Director of Science for The Nature Conservancy in Nebraska. His main role is to evaluate and capture lessons from the Conservancy’s land management and restoration work and then share those lessons with other landowners – both private and public. In addition, Chris works to raise awareness about the importance of prairies and their conservation through his writing, photography, and presentations to various groups. Chris is also the author of "The Ecology and Management of Prairies in the Central United States", published by the University of Iowa Press. He lives in Aurora, Nebraska with his wife Kim and their children.

11 thoughts on “Photos of the Week – January 28, 2022

  1. A trope of the western was that the band of fire was narrow enough that if you were caught, you could run through the burning section with no worse than loss of some hair, and minor burns on exposed skin.

    Do you know if this happened in reality?

    What is your plan if the winds shift and you find the fire coming at you?

    • I think the trope is true to a point. I’ve stepped or hopped across burning fronts when the flames are low in stature (1 foot or less), so that’s definitely possible. Especially when a fire is backing into the wind, the heat and flame heights tend to be much lower than when it is being pushed forward by the wind. However, I’ve seen lots of examples of those headfires (pushed by wind) that would be very difficult to survive if trying to run through them. The heat intensity is part of that, but also the width of those flaming fronts can be measured in meters, not feet, and even behind the major flames, there might be another 10-20 meters or more of area still burning at a lower intensity. Trying to run through that would be inadvisable, to say the least. Also, not to be too graphic, many people who die in fires are actually killed by the superheated air entering their lungs, so in addition to keeping your skin/hair covered, you’d absolutely want to hold your breath.

      We have layers of contingency planning within every burn plan. Wind shifts are certainly one of those events we plan for. Watching weather forecasts ahead of time and monitoring weather during the burn greatly reduce that risk, but it can still happen. We have identified safety zones and escape routes that are defined ahead of time and that adapt as the burn goes on. We are all trained in situational awareness, not only to watch for risks but to keep those paths to safety in mind at all times. When/if we send someone inside the burn unit to light off an area within the burn, that person has to be experienced and has to check in before and after entering so people know they’re in there and both avoid sending fire at them and can warn them of any changing conditions. Fortunately, especially in grassland fires, we’re always creating safety zones as we go, so we are usually close to an area that we’ve already burned out and that has cooled sufficiently to be a safe place to be if winds start pushing flames in our direction (in addition to the other areas identified prior to burning). There’s much more involved than I’ve described here, but those are some examples.

  2. Your mention of changing conditions certainly is relevant in light of the recent experience at our Bastrop State Park, where an escaped prescribed fire ended up burning some 800 acres. Conditions were fine in the morning — wind, humidity, and such all were within acceptable limits — but some hours later winds increased to 20-25 mph and, from what I’ve read, blowing embers created spot fires that spread. It’s going to be interesting to read the final reports; even when people know what they’re doing, things can go wrong.

    Your photos are beautiful. It’s interesting to see the differences among them. My favorite is the second, because of the clarity of the individual flames.

  3. Great photos. Instantly bring back memories of 38 years of prescribed burning and wildland firefighting- being mesmerized by flames- sometimes when my assignment was to keep lighting or keeping my eyes on the other side of the firebreak. Yes, fascinating, complex, dynamic, and beautiful. And, the pictures did help warm me since it was -19 here in northwest WI this morning.

  4. Ah, Fire is renewing and on cold days does look nice!!!!
    Always also amazing how plants adapt to fire. Up here on Namekagon Barrens Wildlife Area we have ‘scrub oaks’ that usually only grow about 4 ft tall, and are 50-100 yrs old with a large root and a base of old burned out ‘new growth’ and then new growths perhaps 3/4″ diam until the next fire. The base may be several feet wide in a variety of shapes, with different big roots growing down from various sections of the base or only 1 large root. Amazing how these trees adapt to fire!!!! Also of course see acorns on a 4 ft tree!
    Fire Renews!!!!

  5. The second photo captivates with its dark mysterious edges and strong contrasts, almost cosmic in appearance while the first pic has interesting “writing” with the wiry grasses crossing the frame. Textures are also interesting, some almost soft and furry, others prickly. Definitely toe-warming. Now craving s’mores!

  6. I have always said that fire is caveman TV. It is hypnotic – we stare into those flames and cannot tear our gazes away. It is liquid, but not. It is solid, and yet it is not. It is alive, and still, we know it is not.

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