To the beginner, prescribed fire can appear scary, making it difficult for managers to adopt this as a new habitat management technique. If you are looking for an introduction to using prescribed fire, check out our Prescribed Fire 101 podcast and our podcast on Advanced Fire considerations. Once you have this basic understanding of fire you will need to get some gear. It’s important that when you use fire your gear is adequate for the scenario and conditions you are burning in. If you are ever in doubt, err on the side of caution and seek professional burning help or wait for a day with better burning conditions.
Below I will break down a handful of prescribed fire gear that I advise all managers purchase prior to beginning to burn. These are the essential tools I use when burning small multi-acre tracts in hardwood and pine forests. As your burn blocks increase you will likely need to upgrade some of this equipment.
This should be the first purchase you make when planning a prescribed fire. This makes lighting fire safe and allows you to light continuous lines while walking quickly. Mix a 1:3 or 1:2 solution of gasoline to diesel fuel in this torch so that the fuel burns well but is not burning so hot that the torch begins spitting fire (you will understand better after using the torch and experimenting with the mixture). NEVER USE STRAIGHT GASOLINE IN A DRIP TORCH, it will burn too hot and will likely damage the torch and/or you! At a little over $100 this is an essential tool that will pay large dividends in the long run through increased burn safety and ease of use.
I always have a few buddies help me out while I am burning and I like for at least half of the people helping to carry a fire rake. These tools are invaluable because they can be used as a traditional rake to pull leaf litter back, but they also have sharpened teeth for cutting sticks, grass, and roots! These rakes are very cost effective, so I encourage you to order a few extras to have on hand in case you want more help on a particular burn.
As with any other manual labor using wood handled tools, working a firebreak with hand tools can lead to blisters quickly, and running a drip torch can get messy with dripping fuel. It’s important that you keep your hands protected with a quality leather glove to reduce blistering and insulate you against burning embers.
Having a reliable backpack leaf blower makes firebreak creation in hardwoods a breeze! This is my absolute favorite tool to use on prescribed burns and one I don’t burn without! I usually create my firebreaks beforehand with the leaf blower and then have it readily available during the burn. If my fire accidentally jumps a firebreak I simply fire up the leaf blower and create a new break to contain this new fire. I highly recommend having one of these on hand!
Before you light any fire, you should make sure you have some water on hand to cool down any hotspots and put out smoldering stumps and logs as you finish up. While you can use a backpack sprayer in a pinch for this function, an Indian fire pump makes spraying a stream of water onto fire much easier, and it is more effective at extinguishing flames.
This is more of an optional purchase on small fires but if you are burning anything over an acre or two, I suggest investing in some good 2-way radios. When everyone can communicate it is much easier to ensure that all is well on all sides of the fire. If you are doubting whether radios are necessary, keep in mind that a strong fire with a dense smoke screen can suppress communication and making it difficult to yell back and forth across a roaring fire.
Whenever you are burning, you should also make sure everyone working the fire has a surplus of drinking water available as it is easy to become de-hydrated. Also, while I have not put fire retardant clothing on this list you should be aware that PPE’s are recommended when burning and wearing 100% cotton clothes should be required at minimum.
Those are the essential pieces of gear I use and I believe this is a great place to begin. If you begin burning larger tracts you may wish to upgrade some of these, or in the case of the essentials like the drip torch, rakes, and gloves, you will probably need to purchase more.
Just a quick note too on the cost efficiency of burning, while the average food plot will cost upwards of $200 an acre prescribed fire is much cheaper. Say you purchase a drip torch, leaf blower, fire rake, fire pump, and some leather gloves; that will cost you around $700. However this is an up front cost that can be spread out over hundreds of acres and years making the cost per acre of prescribed fire far less than the continual expense cycle of food plots. I hope this has given you an idea of what type of prescribed fire gear you need, and if you have any questions drop them below. Happy burning!