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Join in and learn about mandatory incineration with the Forest Preserves of Cook County; plus the bonus of visiting the most secluded place in Cook Cook.

A mouse climbed down a black oak and then scurried across the ash, 9 meters behind burning browned oak leaves in a mandatory cremation in the Cap Sauer Holding Nature Reserve.

“It knew it had to get the tree to safety,” said Kristin Pink, resource ecologist for Cook County’s Forest Preserves. “These are animals that live deep in their DNA in a fire-dependent ecosystem. You know what to do. Birds will fly away. . . Predators will come back here looking for food to find. This mouse will be much easier to spot now that the system has blown. ”

I accompanied the mandatory burns on Tuesday at Cap Sauers and Bergman Slough, part of the 15,000 acres of the Palos Preserves. John Pellegrino was the leading burn boss. Pink, also a burn boss, led the pre-burn crew meeting.

She went through the details of the incineration: the correct order of radios, contingency plans, escape routes, and smoke plans. (Tuesday the burns were set up in such a way that the smoke drifted into other parts of the canned food).

Crew leaders were John Jackson and Danny O’Rourke.

All wore overalls or pants and shirts made from Nomex, a fire retardant material, and other protective gear. Fire is serious business, but it is also original and exciting.

When asked why, volunteer Brian Saame said, “Because [it] is good exercise for me and the purpose is good. But I love fire. “

For a good cause, Pink said: “[Burns] are cultural practices that the natives have practiced for thousands of years to farm the land. The fires were not started by lightning, but by people in a cultural practice. “

This led to fire-dependent ecosystems in which plants and animals evolve, such as a mouse that knows how to survive a burn.

“When I first got into the fire business, mandatory fire wasn’t an accepted land management practice,” said John McCabe, director of resource management at FPCC, on a phone call. “We have come a long way, especially in the forest protection areas.”

The public reaction has changed to where McCabe said. “Especially in the last 10 years when our program was ramped up, they recognize and support it. In some cases they even ask that the brush be cleared out. Ten to 15 years ago I would probably have fallen over. “

We started on Visitation Prairie, a remnant of the prairie and the most remote location in Cook County.

Some crew members lit the fire. Others cleared firebreaks with leaf blowers and rakes. Others worked with baffles (rods with baffles to strike errant flames). Others used fire retardants to keep the burn where it was designed. Pellegrino paced back and forth to make sure nothing went wrong.

Back fires were placed to make a strip to prevent the head fire from jumping into an unplanned area. The most impressive flames arise when the head fire exploded over Indian grass and bluestem and reached a height of 2.40 m.

Flames erupted as they ignited indiangrass and bluestem during a mandatory burn at Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve in Cook County’s Forest Preserves. Dale Bowman

“It’s rejuvenating for the prairie or the forest as it is for my own soul,” said Benjamin Cox, managing director of Friends of the Forest Preserves, in a previous phone call. “It’s one thing in restoration to start and finish in a day and see what you’ve done.”

“The coolest part is when you get out of the burn and have a successful burn: That team spirit, that camaraderie, that’s very cool,” said McCabe. “It’s also easy to see what you’ve done, it’s this huge black area.”

Towards the end of the first cremation, Pink said, “You have to come back in spring and see the site.”

Yes sir.

A sign on a road leading to the mandatory fire area at Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve and Bergman Slough in Cook County's Forest Preserves.  Photo credit: Dale Bowman

A sign on a road leading to the mandatory fire area at Cap Sauers Holding Nature Preserve and Bergman Slough in Cook County’s Forest Preserves. Dale Bowman

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