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Tools of the Trade - Basic Requirements for Prescribed Burns

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As part of the prescribed burn planning process, managers should secure the appropriate equipment. Following are some basic tools and equipment for conducting a prescribed burn. This list excludes additional equipment needed for fireguard preparation.

Power Equipment
All power equipment should be checked and serviced prior to a burn. Remember to have extra fuel and oil.

  • Sprayers - Do not start a burn without one. There is no substitute for water when it comes to containing a fire. The rule of thumb is to have one more sprayer on hand than you anticipate needing. Cattle sprayers work well on most burns. Four-wheeler sprayers work well in some situations.
  • Water pump - A 2-inch, gasoline-operated water pump might be needed to fill sprayers from a pond or creek. A large bucket will work to fill four-wheeler sprayers.
  • Chainsaw - A chainsaw can be used for cutting burning upright trees or snags near the fire perimeter.
  • Blower - Handheld blowers can create fireguards in leaf litter. They can also be used to suppress fire in short grass. If you are creating a fireguard, blow debris out of the fire zone. If you are suppressing fire, blow into the fire zone.


Hand equipment
All of this equipment is not necessary for every burn; however, it is nice to have it on hand if you need it.

  • Drip torch - If you are going to conduct many burns, this is the one piece of specialty equipment that I consider a "must have." They cost around $140, but they last a lifetime. Without a drip torch, fire distribution can be cumbersome.
  • Drip torch fuel - Drip torch fuel is a mixture of gasoline and diesel. The ratio may vary by preference and conditions, but usually ranges between 30:70 to 50:50 gasoline:diesel.
  • Axe - If your chainsaw quits, you might need this.
  • Fire rake - This is a heavy duty version of a garden rake. The sickle-like teeth are capable of cutting small brush. This tool works well for getting to bare soil in timbered areas. A fire rake will cost about $35. A normal garden rake will suffice in many situations.
  • Fire swatter - This is a small mud flap attached to a handle. It is used to swat and smother out fire in low fuel situations. A fire swatter will cost about $40.
  • Shovel - A shovel can be used for throwing dirt on a fire for suppression, or it can be used like a swatter.
  • Wire-cutting pliers - You might need to get through a fence to put out a spot fire.


Clothing and accessories
Wear the proper clothing to avoid severe discomfort or personal injury.

  • Clothing - Clothes should be made from natural fibers such as cotton or wool as these fibers do not combust readily. Commercial fire retardant clothing made from materials such as Nomex is very good, but expensive. Synthetic fibers such as nylon and polyester will burn or melt, and can cause severe injury.
  • Gloves - Leather gloves are preferable; I like welding gloves. Cotton gloves are better than nothing.
  • Footwear - Good leather boots offer protection from fire and scrapes. Heavy rubber boots also work well. Tennis shoes are not an option.
  • Head gear - A hat or cap is a minimum requirement.
  • Face shield - A face shield like the ones used with a cutting torch can really keep the heat off your face and neck while setting or controlling fire. A cotton bandana around the face also helps.
  • Respirator - One of these will guard against smoke and ash inhalation.


Much of this equipment is not very sophisticated. In addition, there are miscellaneous items that you might need, such as matches (no butane lighters), drinking water, two-way radios, cell phones and a first aid kit. Plan ahead - there is nothing worse than needing a piece of equipment in the field and having left it back at the shop.