Prescribed fire is an important management practice used to control woody encroachment and invasive species in grasslands. To use this practice successfully, managers must understand the seasonal windows within which prescribed fire can be applied and how fire behavior could potentially vary among these windows. To characterize prescribed fire windows within the northern Great Plains of North America, we collected data from 20 remote weather stations positioned across North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, USA, from station inception to 2015. We performed an hourly analysis for each station to determine if air temperature (2 to 43 °C), relative humidity (25 to 80%), and wind speed (6.44 to 24.12 km h− 1) conditions were within acceptable ranges for at least six contiguous precipitation-free hours from 0800 to 1800 h. We summarized acceptable conditions over five half-season windows and then used the Rothermel fire spread equation to simulate fire behavior within these half-season windows based on average, minimum, and maximum conditions for seasonally appropriate live herbaceous to fine dead fuel ratios.
While the number of acceptable prescribed fire days did not change from early spring (21 March) to early fall (6 November), the number of acceptable days for conducting spring fires decreased and the number of acceptable days for conducting late summer to early fall fires increased over the study period. The change in spring acceptability reflected an increase in the number of days with air temperatures below acceptable minimum temperature and outside of acceptable wind conditions to conduct operations. Predicted rate of fire spread was highest and most sensitive to the season of the year, fuel curing status, and site invasion status when fire spread was simulated at the upper end of acceptable wind speed and at the lower end of fuel moisture conditions.
Prescribed fire planning needs to take into account the timeframe during which fire windows exist within a year, and how these conditions affect fire behavior. In the northern Great Plains, there is ample opportunity for grassland managers to use summer and fall prescribed fires, and managers should expect to get variable fire behavior results when prescribed fires are applied in more extreme conditions throughout the year.
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Kathryn A. Yurkonis, Josie Dillon, Devan A. McGranahan, et al."Seasonality of Prescribed Fire Weather Windows and Predicted Fire Behavior in the Northern Great Plains, USA" (2019). Biology Faculty Publications. 12.