Earth Day 2019: Fires Erupting All Over Kane County This April

Earth Day 2019: Fires Erupting All Over Kane County This April

  • The Kane County Division of Environmental and Water Resources and Kane County Connects are “Counting Down to Earth Day” with a series of articles on “Going Green” in 2019. This article was contributed by Rob Linke, water resources engineer with the Kane County Division of Environmental & Water Resources.

There’s an old saying that April showers bring May flowers. But if you’re driving around Kane County in early April, you may notice that on those few days when the sun is shining and the winds are light, the horizon will be dotted with distant plumes of smoke.

The smoke you see on these days are likely to be prescribed burns being conducted to help manage and enhance the natural areas in the county.

Before settlement, the landscape of Kane County was dominated by vast areas of woodlands (mostly along the Fox River), wetlands, and tall grass prairies. The prairies and wetland areas historically experienced wild fires that swept across the land — which is why most of the woodlands concentrated along the Fox River valley, and on the east side of the river in particular.

The native vegetation in these wetlands and prairies is uniquely suited to survive these sudden springtime events by having deep root systems which would survive the fires even when the part of the plant above ground was burned away.

Today, while only a fraction of our natural landscapes remain, many new developments and even residential landowners are replanting native landscapes to restore wildlife habitat and use the deep-rooted native plants’ abilities to filter and infiltrate stormwater runoff. Think rain garden on a residential lot or that detention basin that looks like a wetland.

As hardy as these native plants are, they still need help. These natural areas and landscapes planted with native plants are under constant pressure from nuisance and invasive species of plants which threaten to crowd out the native plants.

This is bad for wildlife diversity and the invasive species don’t have the deep roots which improve the soil and promote infiltration of rainwater — which is vital to preserve our groundwater for future drinking water.

To combat the influx of nuisance and invasive (bad) plants into these areas, property owners can utilize prescribed fire — also called a controlled burn — to effectively manage the weeds and “bad” plants without hurting the native “good” plants.

Larger, publicly owned properties are often managed using controlled burns which are conducted by forest preserve or park district staff.

Staff members participating in a controlled burn receive special training and a burn manager is designated to prepare a detailed plan for each property that defines how and when the burn will be conducted, taking into account the vegetation to be burned, the personnel needed, adjacent properties and infrastructure to be protected, and the weather conditions.

A controlled burn on smaller, private properties with native landscapes and natural areas can be conducted, as well, often with the help of a native landscape contractor, but some homeowner’s and homeowner’s associations perform their own controlled burns on their properties.

The key to a controlled burn is the CONTROL part. Training in how to conduct a controlled burn, coordination with the local fire department, which may require a permit, and careful planning are key in utilizing fire to manage our natural landscapes.

Want to learn more about prescribed fire? There are several regional organizations which provide information and introductory training on using prescribed fire as a tool for managing natural areas.

You can find more information by contacting Chicago Wilderness or Natural Land Institute, which both offer classes in late winter each year.

How To Find Controlled Burns in Your Area

The Forest Preserve District of Kane County posts notices about controlled burns on its Facebook page. A sample is embedded below.

Read The Countdown to Earth Day Series!