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Sycamore Park District holds controlled burn at Old Mill Park

Published: Monday, April 1, 2013 10:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, April 1, 2013 11:51 p.m. CDT
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(John Sahly – jsahly@shawmedia.com)
Sycamore Park District workers conducted a controlled burn of the prairie area at Old Mill Park, 50 Mt. Hunger Road, in Sycamore Monday morning.

SYCAMORE – Sycamore residents may have noticed a significant amount of smoke Monday coming from the grounds of Old Mill Park.

The smoke and flames were a result of a controlled burn implemented by the Sycamore Park District.

About five acres of the park at 50 Mount Hunger Road in Sycamore were burned as part of a replenishment process for the land.

Samantha Melton, an ecological consultant at ENCAP, Inc., the company at 1709 Afton Road in Sycamore that worked with the park district to conduct the burn, said burning the dead vegetation benefits the land by fostering new growth and seed germination.

"Hopefully, it will bring back more native flowers and the area will be more enjoyable," she said.

Sycamore Assistant Fire Chief Art Zern said Monday's weather was ideal for the burn, which is a common event around the area this time of year.

"[Monday] was a nice, calm day, so it was a good choice for them [to burn]," he said.

Zern said the Sycamore Fire Department inspected the site before issuing a burning permit, which is required within the city limits.

To be approved, the proposed burning must be more than 50 feet away from buildings, power lines, trees or anything else that could be damaged in the process, he said.

Safely burning land in a controlled setting is a science that Melton doesn't take lightly.

Before starting the head fire, Melton said they first test the area's conditions.

"Typically, you'll go into a downwind area and start a starter fire with a lighter to see how fast everything is burning," she said.

Whether or not to burn Monday also depended on several factors, with the wind's speed and direction being the most important, she said.

With houses located northeast of the site, Melton said the wind was blowing northwest, which was ideal for keeping embers from drifting toward the structures.

Other favorable weather conditions included warmer temperatures and sunny skies to keep the land dry. The humidity also was ideal, allowing the land could burn at just the right pace, she said.

Zern said the fire from the burning is fairly manageable.

"It doesn't get out of control, but it does move pretty quickly," he said.

Melton said the strategy for keeping a fire under control is to create a black-line barrier with burn brakes – areas that are burned ahead of time where the fire will extinguish itself when it reaches them.

But Melton said they still take all the necessary precautions.

"[The fire is] designed to go out on its own, but we have people who are out there to make sure that it does," she said.

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