On a sunny March morning, BBC Land Stewardship Staff headed to Penikese Island with members of Mass Wildlife and DCR to assist in a controlled burn. I had received my initial wildland firefighter training from the Cape Cod National Seashore and joined them on a few prescribed burns, but this would be the biggest burn I had participated in.
This particular burn was intended to expand and manage the habitat for nesting shorebirds on the island. It also helps control invasive species, and is a tool used for managing the island as grassland habitat.
After unloading our gear from the boats and meeting the rest of the crew, we immediately went to work setting up the hose lay. The progressive lay of the hoses was vital in enabling us to protect the areas of the island that were not to be burned.
Once we had all our gear set and PPE on, we held a briefing to go over the plan for the day, the weather report, potential hazards, and receive our assignments. BBC staff was placed on the holding team to defend zones from fire breaching the firelines. Using water packs and hoses, we wet anything that we did not want to burn, including signs, sheds, and log piles.
It was not long before the fire came roaring over the hill. Plumes of smoke danced with the flames as the fire crawled towards us, consuming everything in its path. Since the conditions were perfect for burning that day, the fire was well contained as it reached the fireline and we were able to bump up to the next area it would reach. The fire moved quickly across the 75-acre island, and so did we.
The most exciting part of the day for me was when I was offered the chance to ignite along a length of field. Drip torch in hand and an ear-to-ear smile on my face, I made my way along the fireline, pouring burning fuel onto the grasses below. When I finished my stretch I turned to admire the beauty of the flames engulfing the grasses; it felt incredible to be part of an effort so vital to maintaining Penikese Island’s ecosystem. I then stood with other members of the crew and watched in awe as the ignition team set the eastern part of the island ablaze in what seemed like just a matter of minutes.
Upon completion of mop-up procedures and rolling up hoses, the crew gathered for an After Action Review. During this, we discussed what went well, what we learned from this burn, and all of us had the opportunity to share something from the day.
While I reflected on the day, I thought of how much I learned! The crew from Mass Wildlife and DCR provided me with a bounty of experience and hands-on learning opportunities. They were very receptive to all of my questions and guided me through tasks with enthusiasm. This was the biggest controlled burn I have ever been on, and I am so thankful I was given the opportunity to participate!