Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
The Directorate of Public Works and Fort Leavenworth Fire and Emergency Services are planning to conduct a prescribed burn this month at Sherman Army Airfield.
“The main purpose is to move vegetation outside of the main containment part of the airfield,” said Neil Bass, DPW natural resources specialist.
Controlled burns provide several benefits for native plant growth and will get rid of invasive species.
“As you burn off all that (dead vegetation) it will allow (natives) planted on the airfield itself to actually come back healthier and more vibrant,” Bass said. “It will also crowd out other herbs and grasses that would be more attractive to wildlife and provide a less attractive area for wildlife. We want to discourage wildlife from the airfield because you don’t want planes hitting deer or birds.”
Bass said there is a timing aspect that affects things, too.
“Your timing impacts what species of vegetation you favor or don’t favor. In the fall, it will actually be beneficial for a lot of native forbs that still has potential to kill some trees,” Bass said. “By burning the fescue when it’s dead, we’ll actually benefit the fescue and hurt the other plants because it gives the fescue an edge later.
“If we burn late in the spring, it would damage and weaken the fescue,” he said. “Then, other vegetation and forbs that we don’t want to grow would out compete the fescue and hurt it.”
Between April and September, controlled burns are off limits, too, Bass said.
“The Migratory Bird Treaty Act (of 1918) says that you can’t destroy bird nests, and we have some grassland nesting birds here in Kansas (during those months),” he said.
When the time comes for the burn, Bass said fire department personnel will measure the relative humidity, wind speed and moisture content in the vegetation.
“Too much moisture and humidity, you’ll get a lot of smoke and it won’t actually burn,” Bass said. “Too little moisture and humidity, then the fire will burn hot and be harder to contain and could escape easily.”
The controlled burn will also serve as training for the firefighters as they will fight the controlled burn the same way they would fight an actual fire, according to a Fort Leavenworth Fire Department?representative in a related March Lamp article. Plus, because firefighters will preplan the burn, they will become familiar with the terrain and vegetation, which is similar to how they would plan how to fight fires in buildings by becoming familiar with the layout and identify any hazards.
On the day of the burn, residents are encouraged to stay away from the airfield even though smoke will be visible.
“Just know that everything is under control, and it is a man-made planned event,” Bass said. “(Residents) should stay off the levy road because when the burn is occurring there could be equipment moving around.”