Nantucket Burn

By Brianna Carstens, AmeriCorps Year 19

Travel Day

Thursday, October 19th, 12:00 p.m.

Cape Cod National Seashore Fire Cache, Wellfleet, MA

For my Individual Placement, I serve with the Cape Cod National Seashore Fire Office. My main role is volunteer coordination, but sometimes I assist with prescribed burns since I have previous fire experience. On this particular Thursday, we were scheduled to travel and then assist on a prescribed burn with the Nantucket Land Bank. I reported to the Marconi Fire Cache and from there traveled by van to Hyannis with alongside FireCorps. From there we caught a ferry, and two and a half hours later arrived on Nantucket. A few people from the Land Bank picked us up from the ferry and drove us across the island to the Land Bank’s maintenance facility.  The FireCorps and I stayed the night in a renovated farmhouse on the property. That evening, we found out the Orionids Meteor Shower was happening, so after dinner a few of us went outside. We laid down in the driveway, had a beautiful view of the Milky Way, and saw the occasional shooting star.

Burn Day

Friday, October 20th, 6:27 a.m.

Land Bank Farmhouse, Nantucket, MA

I slept well at the farmhouse, and woke up to early morning light coming in through my window. I got out of bed and peered out to see the start of an amazing sunrise.

I was suddenly hit with the realization that I could see sunrise on Nantucket and the thought spurred me to get ready quickly. I got dressed and rushed outside. The farmhouse is on a piece of land that borders the ocean, so I headed down the dirt road towards the beach. As I walked the sky brightened, and just as I reached the beach the sun fully appeared. I stayed for a few minutes, trying to take in the moment, and recognize that I was truly here. It is still hard to believe that this small-town girl from Washington State made it all the way out here, but here I am, and it is moments like this that make it all seem real.

“I was suddenly hit with the realization that I could see sunrise on Nantucket and the thought spurred me to get ready quickly.”

I headed back towards the farmhouse, this time paying attention to my surroundings instead of the sky. The Land Bank owns a golf course and a bunch of grasslands adjacent to a neighborhood. The road that I had walked out separated the two. I got back to the farmhouse and geared up for the day.

I was placed on my squad, issued a radio, and assigned a ride out to the property. The task was to burn thirty acres of grasslands to promote regime change and native species propagation. Our respective squads drove out and split up. I was assigned to holding, which basically means standing at the fireline and watching the green, or area we don’t want to burn, for spot fires. We started our test fire, and since it burned well, our Burn Boss decided that we were good to go with the burn. As it intensified, so did the smoke, and the potential for spot fires. I decided to find a little bit higher ground to have better eyes on the green. As I hiked up a dune nearby, I realized our unit bordered the ocean.

” I decided to find a little bit higher ground to have better eyes on the green. As I hiked up a dune nearby, I realized our unit bordered the ocean.”

I stayed up for a while, and then swapped out for a spot on the engine that was more directly in the smoke. We rotate like this so that no one is in smoke for the whole day. The unit we were burning was covered in Bayberry and Huckleberry, both of which are oily, and give off itchy smoke. It burns your eyes and throat, and if you aren’t used to smoke, it can make you tear up and cough quite a bit. I always bring mint gum with me on burns, as it helps to counteract the effects.

“The unit we were burning was covered in Bayberry and Huckleberry, both of which are oily, and give off itchy smoke.”

Both squads continued down our line from the test fire, creating solid black thirty feet off the line. This means essentially a clean burn from the fireline to thirty feet into the unit.

Think of the unit as a box, with borders of fireline, which in this case are dirt roads. We want to increase that border, and that is why we build solid black. We do this to create strong borders before we light the middle of the unit. This gives us a nice buffer area where the burn should quickly lose intensity that is well away from the line. This process is time consuming, because we light very small sections and have them burn all the way down, and then light another section. This is done using drip torches, which are canisters filled with a mix of gas and diesel.

Once both sides had solid black, we wetlined (where we take a hose and spray in a straight line directly on the fuels) the middle of the unit and lit off of it. The middle of the unit went and burned great.

“…it is moments like this that make it all seem real.”

Overall, the burn went well. We had to shut down early due to the amount of smoke that we were emitting, but the day was still a success. We quickly gridded the burn for hotspots, loaded up, and drove back to the farmhouse. We made sure that the trucks and equipment we used were in good condition, and then we loaded up to head back to the ferry.

I had a fantastic first time on Nantucket, and I already can’t wait to go back. When I applied for this program, I never could have guessed that I would be doing prescribed fire on Nantucket, but here we are. I think that might be my favorite thing about this program. There is immense variety in our days. You can never be sure what you will end up doing week-to-week, but you can always count on a new adventure.

“When I applied for this program, I never could have guessed that I would be doing prescribed fire on Nantucket, but here we are.”

 

Edited by AmeriCorps Cape Cod Program Staff