Winter Moisture Leads to 450 Slash Piles Burned

Members of the Philmont Conservation Team have taken advantage of significant winter snow events to burn more than 450 slash piles since January 1st! Crews have been building these piles for the past couple of years from branches and slash created by forest management projects designed to restore historic forest structure and increase fire resiliency. Crews participating in treks this summer had the opportunity to help with thinning as part of their conservation project. This winter piles have burned between Lovers Leap and Crater Lake, at the Demonstration Forest, and at the Chase Ranch.

Burning piles is a labor-intensive process, here are the steps:

**Disclaimer: Planning, experience, and permitting is required for pile burns. The Philmont Fire Department and experts are consulted to ensure the safety of staff and the land. Do not try this at home.**

1. Wait for the perfect weather (snow depth, humidity, and wind speeds must be within the prescribed parameters).

2. Hold a safety briefing and ensure all staff knows the plan.

3. Light piles using a drip torch. The drip touches are filled with a specially-mixed fuel and help crews light the entire pile. 

4. Watch the piles burn, this is the fun (and warm part)!

5. Piles are observed and tended to as needed. Staff “chunk” the piles to burn all contents of the pile. Additional brush is added from near the pile to help consume more of the fuel.

6. Staff continue to light more piles and check on piles that are smoldering. Sawyers are on hand to cut down trees that fall victim to high flames from the piles. The moisture limits this, but the occasional tree succumbs to the flames.

7. Start building more slash piles to burn next year!

Have you helped build any piles? Are you coming to PhilBreak? Let us know in the comments.

Photos by Henry Hibbeln

3 responses to “Winter Moisture Leads to 450 Slash Piles Burned”

  1. We built some of these this summer for our CONS project. It’s good to see them safely burn. Thanks for the photos and the video.

  2. I’m really excited about the forest management at Philmont and using fire in positive ways. The high severity fire behavior in the Ute Park Fire could have been reduced if the forests, like much of the forests throughout the west, had not experienced over a century of fire exclusion. Now we need to increase the pace and scale of these forest restoration projects to avoid additional catastrophic fire. #sendmoney

  3. Fantastic work shown here. Great to see the forest opened back up to near historic conditions where you can “see through”. We have completed half a dozen defensible space projects this winter in the Taos area using a “cut to burn pile” strategy that eliminates the surplus fuels immediately. We ignite the fires of green material using a propane weed burner fitted with a 12′ heavy duty rubber line to the burn nozzle, and once they are burning, the fires gobble up everything we carry to them. We stage the fires on 40′ – 50′ centers across the contour of slopes, so the furthest we carry or throw slash < 3" in diameter is 25'. The fires are easily managed because we are feeding them as we cut. We have had success with this during rainy cycles spring, summer and fall as well as most easily in the winter. If there are gullies nearby, like the one shown in the back of the time lapse, we use some slash to build small check dams on 15' centers along the length of the arroyo. In the forest these are called rastrones, or skid trails where mules or early skidders dragged logs to landings or rivers for transport to mills. They are water wounds, hemorrhaging moisture out of the forest. Rastrones exist everywhere across the uplands at regular intervals, and they cry out for remedial action. They tell the tale of an earlier time, when every action in the forest was extractive. On slopes we utilize some of the boles of trees as cross slope check dams which capture down hill migration of detritus which accumulates and enhances the soil-carbon sponge of the forest – effectively rehydrating the landscape. The water! that is stored in the downed logs, in the spongy material they collect and under lop and scatter where appropriate amplifies tree growth and grass production – and in combination with the thinning, further enhances the forest's resistance to crown fire and insect infestation.