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2019 Spring Prescribed Fire Season

2019 Spring Prescribed Fire Season

  • Author: Mike MacDonald
  • Date Posted: Apr 18, 2019
  • Category:

Fire is Nature’s Friend

 

Before I celebrate the exciting spring fire season with a dramatic, educational slideshow with all the action, you should know that the first great bloom of 2019 is still about a week away. However, on this Easter weekend, if you want to fill your heart with the hope that springtime brings, here are some scouted preserves that are lush, green, and about to explode:

If you’re new to ChicagoNatureNOW!, click here to SUBSCRIBE to our weekly report that tells you where to find local wildflower blooms of national park quality. Now it’s time to talk “fire.”

To signal the arrival of spring, Mother Nature sends up spathes of thermogenetic skunk cabbage. In stark contrast, restoration workers send up smoke signals from inside our nature preserves. Perhaps, in late March on your way home from work, you deciphered one of their billowing white missives in the sky. Or maybe you simply read the orange diamond-shaped sign along the road imploring you to not dial 911. No matter how you were informed, the message was clear, “The burn season is aflame, and the blooming is just around the corner.”

During early spring and late autumn, land managers and restoration volunteers throughout the Chicago region employ the healing benefits of fire to invigorate our native landscapes by stimulating the growth of our indigenous plants and hindering the advance of invaders.

Between the dates of March 18 and March 29, I photographed five prescribed fires inside the Forest Preserves of Cook County. These particular jobs were led by staff from the Forest Preserves and assisted by workers from Friends of the Forest Preserves (one of my favorite organizations). Trained volunteers from the site also participated.

To follow is a slideshow of my photographs that celebrates the healing work performed at five Cook County Forest Preserves sites: Theodore Stone Preserve (Hodgkins), Bemis Woods South (Western Springs), Somme Prairie Grove (Northbrook), Black Partridge Woods (Lemont), and Orland Grassland (Orland Park).

April at Messenger Woods in Homer Glen features a breathtaking display of Virginia bluebells.*

2019 Spring
Prescribed Fire
Season

Theodore Stone Preserve - 3/18/19

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

At Theodore Stone Preserve, Brendon Jones with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie blazing.

At Theodore Stone Preserve, Brendon Jones with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie blazing.

At Theodore Stone Preserve, Brendon Jones with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie blazing.

At Bemis Woods South, Malikah Frazier with Friends of the Forest Preserves creates a fire break.

At Bemis Woods South, Malikah Frazier with Friends of the Forest Preserves creates a fire break.

At Bemis Woods South, Malikah Frazier with Friends of the Forest Preserves creates a fire break.

Lance Williams with Friends of the Forest Preserves sprays water to protect nearby structures at Bemis Woods South.

Lance Williams with Friends of the Forest Preserves sprays water to protect nearby structures at Bemis Woods South.

Lance Williams with Friends of the Forest Preserves sprays water to protect nearby structures at Bemis Woods South.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

During a prescribed fire at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Steven Ochab with Cook County Forest Preserves lays down fire with a drip torch.

During a prescribed fire at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Steven Ochab with Cook County Forest Preserves lays down fire with a drip torch.

During a prescribed fire at Somme Prairie Grove in Northbrook, Steven Ochab with Cook County Forest Preserves lays down fire with a drip torch.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.  The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, Alex Taylor with Friends of the Forest Preserves prepares to light the grasses.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Alex Taylor with Friends of the Forest Preserves prepares to light the grasses.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Alex Taylor with Friends of the Forest Preserves prepares to light the grasses.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.  The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

At Somme Prairie Grove, Laura Roncal from Friends of the Forest Preserve lays down fire along a fire break.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Laura Roncal from Friends of the Forest Preserve lays down fire along a fire break.

At Somme Prairie Grove, Laura Roncal from Friends of the Forest Preserve lays down fire along a fire break.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

In this oak savanna known as Somme Prairie Grove, mature oak trees are immune to the flames due to their fire-resistant bark. On this day, workers scoured the preserve to protect the younger oaks and the more vulnerable shrubs, such as filberts.

In this oak savanna known as Somme Prairie Grove, mature oak trees are immune to the flames due to their fire-resistant bark. On this day, workers scoured the preserve to protect the younger oaks and the more vulnerable shrubs, such as filberts.

In this oak savanna known as Somme Prairie Grove, mature oak trees are immune to the flames due to their fire-resistant bark. On this day, workers scoured the preserve to protect the younger oaks and the more vulnerable shrubs, such as filberts.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.  The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

At Black Partridge Woods, Rob Abrham with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a leaf blower to clear away fallen foliage as the first step in creating a fire break between the woodland and private property.

At Black Partridge Woods, Rob Abrham with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a leaf blower to clear away fallen foliage as the first step in creating a fire break between the woodland and private property.

At Black Partridge Woods, Rob Abrham with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a leaf blower to clear away fallen foliage as the first step in creating a fire break between the woodland and private property.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.  The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

Dawson Cox follows after Rob Abrham's leaf clearing (prev. image), using fire to further widen the fire break along the downwind side.

Dawson Cox follows after Rob Abrham's leaf clearing (prev. image), using fire to further widen the fire break along the downwind side.

Dawson Cox follows after Rob Abrham's leaf clearing (prev. image), using fire to further widen the fire break along the downwind side.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

At Black Partridge Woods, Graciela Olmeda with Friends of the Forest Preserves douses a log that might have burn harmlessly throughout the night, but with a glow that could have caused worry in the surrounding neighborhood.

At Black Partridge Woods, Graciela Olmeda with Friends of the Forest Preserves douses a log that might have burn harmlessly throughout the night, but with a glow that could have caused worry in the surrounding neighborhood.

At Black Partridge Woods, Graciela Olmeda with Friends of the Forest Preserves douses a log that might have burn harmlessly throughout the night, but with a glow that could have caused worry in the surrounding neighborhood.

Black Partridge Woods - 3/27/19

The speckled maroon spathe of skunk cabbage blends with leaf litter on the woodland floor, making it difficult to find when it first emerges. However, the plant becomes more conspicuous as it grows larger and produces its curious, oval-shaped yellow flower head, known as a spadix. The tiny delicate protrusions you see on the spadix are the flowers.  The spadix emits a foul odor that, to a human, is reminiscent of skunk. However, to flesh flies, carrion flies, and several kinds of gnats, the spadix smells and looks more like a yummy dead animal, a trick the plant uses to lure them in for pollination. The spadix is also where the process of thermogenesis takes place. It warms the confines of the spathe, providing a cozy haven for pollinating insects while transmitting the smell of carrion far and wide.*

At Black Partridge Woods, Amber Kunz with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a fire rake (affectionately called a "frake") to clear away combustible material from vulnerable trees.

At Black Partridge Woods, Amber Kunz with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a fire rake (affectionately called a "frake") to clear away combustible material from vulnerable trees.

At Black Partridge Woods, Amber Kunz with Friends of the Forest Preserves uses a fire rake (affectionately called a "frake") to clear away combustible material from vulnerable trees.

At Orland Grassland, Ryan Buchler with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie ablaze.

At Orland Grassland, Ryan Buchler with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie ablaze.

At Orland Grassland, Ryan Buchler with Cook County Forest Preserves sets the prairie ablaze.

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

At Orland Grassland, the fire from Ryan Buchler's torch sends windblown flames across the tall grasses of the prairie..

At Orland Grassland, the fire from Ryan Buchler's torch sends windblown flames across the tall grasses of the prairie..

At Orland Grassland, the fire from Ryan Buchler's torch sends windblown flames across the tall grasses of the prairie..

Somme Prairie Grove - 3/22/19

In Chicago, the beginning of spring does not arrive in a fanfare of color. Rather, it begins subtly. In early March, burgundy spathes of skunk cabbage, dappled with yellow stripes and spots, quietly emerge from beneath a cloak of brown decaying leaves or, by way of a rare heat-generating process called thermogenesis, melt their way to the surface through layers of late-winter ice and snow. Thermogenesis is a rare property that is shared by only a few of Earth’s plants, one of which is skunk cabbage. Concealed deep inside this burgundy hood is a tiny “green” furnace, generating heat that can rise as much as 63°F above the ambient air temperature. This easily allows the curling spathe to melt the surrounding snow and break through the surface. You can find skunk cabbage at high quality woodlands like Pilcher Park, Black Partridge Woods, and Bluff Spring Fen.*

Pat Hayes, volunteer steward of Orland Grassland, uses a flapper to extinguish the final flames of the day.

Pat Hayes, volunteer steward of Orland Grassland, uses a flapper to extinguish the final flames of the day.

Pat Hayes, volunteer steward of Orland Grassland, uses a flapper to extinguish the final flames of the day.

At the end of a long day at Orland Grassland, Cinnamon Hoskins with Friends of the Forest Preserve takes in the fruits of her labor as she reaches the culmination of the RX fire season.

At the end of a long day at Orland Grassland, Cinnamon Hoskins with Friends of the Forest Preserve takes in the fruits of her labor as she reaches the culmination of the RX fire season.

At the end of a long day at Orland Grassland, Cinnamon Hoskins with Friends of the Forest Preserve takes in the fruits of her labor as she reaches the culmination of the RX fire season.

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For those who are featured in the slideshow, I’m happy to send you a digital image (big enough for printing) when you click here to fill out a model release. If you’re not pictured here, I still may have a great shot of you. Just let me know.

Thanks to all the workers for welcoming me and for indulging me as I followed them around with my camera and donned in my orange flame-retardant jumpsuit and blue helmet! With some self-awareness, I jokingly expressed to one of the workers that I always remove my orange jumpsuit before I enter the real world because I worry that I might be mistaken for an escaped convict. That’s when he told me that he used to wear an orange jumpsuit at his previous restoration job. And my fear came true for him when the police arrived after receiving an emergency call from a concerned citizen. So, like they say, “Many a truth is said in jest.”

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—Mike

© 2019, Mike MacDonald. All rights reserved.

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