Last night I had the great pleasure of photographing some controlled burns near Council Grove with the man behind Kanscape Photography, Harold Gaston. It was a great night, lots of burns going on and Harold had us placed in an absolute perfect position for photography.
For those of you not familiar with the spring burning of the prairie… these fires are intentionally set and are an integral part of maintaining the Tall Grass Prairie. Simply put, without the fires there would be no prairie. If you don’t believe this, just drive around the Flint Hills and look for areas where there is nothing but cedar trees…these are patches of the prairie that is no longer burned. For an interesting read on the burning of the prairie, I would refer you to an excellent article on the Flint Hills, Tall Grass Blog, “Smoke gets in your eyes.” Recently there has been some discussion about the effect of the burning on air quality in some of the larger cities in the area. There is no question that air quality is important…but so is the burning of the prairie. This year a voluntary smoke management plan is in effect to help mitigate the effects of the smoke on air quality. Such plans are a good idea, but it is interesting to me that I haven’t heard of a ‘voluntary air pollution reduction plan’ from anyone in the cities to reduce everyday pollution in the cities during the burning to also help mitigate the effects of the burns…(maybe there has been one and I just haven’t heard of it and yes I know such a plan would be impractical to try and enact).
Anyway, off the soapbox (hey it is my blog!) and back to the photography. I met Harold late in the afternoon and we headed out west of Council Grove where a substantial portion of a large ranch was going to be burned.
We were able to photograph a few burns early in the evening. It is amazing how fast these fires move.
We were able to get out into a recently burned pasture to do some photography. I never feel like it is spring until I smell the smoke of the spring burns…this was definitely the start of spring for me!
At one point we drove by a fire that had just been started by the road and the heat was so intense I could feel it through the window of the vehicle we were in. It was incredible!
At this point, we took a short break for supper in Council Grove and waited a bit for the sunset. There had been some nice clouds in the sky and we were both hoping to be able to photograph some of the fires with a really great sunset. Unfortunately, some thick clouds moved in to the west and blotted out most of the sunset. The fires were still really pretty though. Harold had us positioned so that a fire was burning its way across the prairie in front of us. The photograph above is one I made as the fire moved through a line of trees.
As the fire that was burning in front of us burned out, the crew working moved in and started a new fire right next to us (the fire was set to move away from us, they weren’t trying to burn us out!). Many people don’t realize that these controlled burns are well planned out with careful consideration of how the winds will move the fires. The ranchers doing these burns are well practiced at this and have the equipment necessary to control and direct the fires. In the photograph above, the man on the ATV is starting a line of fire. You can see the fire moving off to the left of the photograph behind him (which is the direction it was meant to go).
In this next photograph, you can see lines of fire moving out across the prairie from its starting point. I made this photograph standing at the fence line where the fire was set.
The prairie fires are impressive during the day, but the daylight views don’t compare at all to how the fires look at night. It was an incredible sight just to stand and watch as the fires burned out all around us.
At this point in the evening we were treated to the appearance of the crescent moon high in the sky above the fires. The fires had all moved off in the distance and were burning out at this point. I wished they were closer as it was getting chilly and I had forgotten to bring a jacket. It was a small price to pay for such an incredible evening. I can’t think of a better way to kick off spring!
Over the next couple of weeks the burned prairie will rapidly turn green as the new grass begins to grow. The transformation of the prairie is amazing and I’m looking forward to photographing all the changes that will be occurring over the next few months.