Book Review – Guidebook for Prescribed Burning in the Southern Region

March 26, 2024 By: Lindsay Thomas Jr.
prescribed burning

To learn to use prescribed fire for deer habitat management, there’s no substitute for participation in a well-run burn. Reading about fire, taking an indoor training course, and even watching videos won’t fully prepare you for the experience of lighting a drip-torch and igniting your own prescribed fire. But safe, effective fire is a result of early planning and preparation. As books on prescribed burning go, a new one from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension – available as a free PDF or a printed, spiral-bound edition for sale –  is an excellent guide to the critical stages of preparing and planning your first fire.

The Guidebook for Prescribed Burning is not a book you’ll read cover to cover and then put away. Instead it’s a process that helps you plan a prescribed fire by leading you through every step, from the earliest stages months or even a year before you light any fire. “Action” chapters make up the first half of the Guidebook, and they explain each step of determining your goals for the fire and planning the appropriate burn, including checklists you can check off as you go – right up until the actions you should take the day before and the morning of your planned burn.

The action chapters take you all the way through conducting the burn and then evaluating your success and effectiveness. The second half of the Guidebook dives deeper into information you’ll use throughout the process, including a thorough understanding of how weather affects the safety and effectiveness of a burn, how to evaluate fuels, managing smoke, and understanding fire behavior. The amount of information is enormous: Guides to tools and equipment, lists of online resources and apps, liability discussions, mapping tips, and much more.

prescribed burning
The Guidebook uses tons of graphics, tables, photos and sidebars for quick and easy reference.

The publication relies heavily on graphics, charts, diagrams, sidebars, photos and tables to present the information, and all of it is well organized and labeled with prominent subheadings. Literally there is a not a single gray page of solid text out of 220 total pages. If you are more experienced and need less of the information, you can still easily and quickly find the parts you want. 

Yes, even experienced burn bosses will find useful information here, as the authors compiled tons of information and helpful resources for even the most sooty veteran. In fact, there are tables titled “Resources for Beginning Burners” and “Resources for Advanced Burners.”

What about the North? This Guidebook was written and compiled by prescribed fire experts and institutions in the South. Much of the guidance is specific to the tree species, landscapes, regulations and forests typical of the South. However, much of the guidance is still relevant to habitat managers anywhere. I wouldn’t discourage a northern habitat manager from buying the book, but they should browse the free PDF first, and also combine the information with guidance from forestry and wildlife professionals in their state.

I particularly like that the printed Guidebook is spiral-bound. Not only is it easy to mark your place, but the book remains open to an important page if you need hands-free reference on a truck tailgate. For example, when you’re following the instructions for assembling, filling and lighting your new drip torch or reviewing the list of critical weather factors as you look them up in an online fire weather forecast on your phone. 

Who Created the Guidebook?

The Guidebook was compiled and written by nine different authors, led by Dr. Leslie Boby of Southern Regional Extension Forestry. The other authors include Jennifer Fawcett, North Carolina State University; David Clabo, University of Georgia; Hallie Harriman, Piedmont Environmental Council; Adam Maggard, Auburn University; Barry Coulliette, Alachua Conservation Trust; Laurel Kays, The Nature Conservancy; and Sarah McNair, University of Georgia. 

The book provides a much longer list of nearly 50 reviewers who provided feedback on specific chapters or the entire Guidebook. They include fire scientists, Forestry Extension professionals, and many other experts. In short, a who’s who of prescribed fire experts in the South assembled and proofread this resource.

How to Get the Guidebook for Prescribed Burning

The Guidebook for Prescribed Burning has been available online as a free PDF since last year, but just this month printed, spiral-bound copies became available for sale at the UGA Extension store. The spiral-bound printed copies are $42 including tax and shipping. Quantity discounts available for multiple books.

Safe, effective fire is all in the planning – including a plan for what to do if conditions change unexpectedly in the middle of your burn – so this Guidebook will be a valuable reference for anyone who wants to incorporate prescribed fire into their deer habitat management.

An example of graphics from the Guidebook for Prescribed Burning showing how atmospheric conditions affect smoke dispersion. Numerous graphics like this one fill the book.

About Lindsay Thomas Jr.:

Lindsay Thomas Jr. is NDA's Chief Communications Officer. He has been a member of the staff since 2003. Prior to that, Lindsay was an editor at a Georgia hunting and fishing news magazine for nine years. Throughout his career as an editor, he has written and published numerous articles on deer management and hunting. He earned his journalism degree at the University of Georgia.