It seems counter-intuitive that the United States Forest Service, the organization employed to protect and govern national forests, would intentionally start forest fires, yet that is exactly what it does each year. Prescribed burns help prevent and fight out of control forest fires by removing ground and canopy fuels from the wild fires' path. Various methods are employed by the USFS firefighters to start and control the fires.
The firefighters and land resource employees responsible for doing controlled burns and fires often use hand-held drip torches. These drip torches look like large oiling cans and have a mechanism that holds a small pilot flame over the spigot so when the torch is tilted, flammable oil drips out, creating a small and contained fire. Drip torches use UN #IBI-Y-150 fuel, a form of flammable liquid with a low flash point.
Forest firefighters and rangers with the U.S. Forest Service are expected to carry certain pieces of gear for their job duty and safety. Having a small personal fire-starting kit is essential gear for these workers. The personal fire-starter kits consist of waterproof matches in a watertight container or a wind- and waterproof lighter. A small magnesium block with a scraper is one effective fire starter allowed in the kits. Magnesium is a highly flammable metal that burns at extreme temperatures, making fire starting possible in extreme foul weather. Paraffin candles may also be used for fire starter in the personal kits.
After studying the humidity, winds, temperature, weather patterns, topography and fuel sources for an area of forest, such as in the Apalachicola National Forest, the U.S. Forest Service will go about doing defensive and prescribed burns to create what it calls defensible space. These large burns are started with the drip torches and other accelerants. Accelerants are typically a hydro-carbon-based fuel or wax-based oil. These fuels burn at low flash points, allowing nonexplosive burns in designated areas.
Article Written By Eric Cedric
A former Alaskan of 20 years, Eric Cedric now resides in California. He's published in "Outside" and "Backpacker" and has written a book on life in small-town Alaska, "North by Southeast." Cedric was a professional mountain guide and backcountry expedition leader for 18 years. He worked in Russia, Iceland, Greece, Turkey and Belize. Cedric attended Syracuse University and is a private pilot.