On Oct. 22 at 2 p.m., a prairie burn was to take place in the St Olaf Natural lands, but it was unable to be carried out.
Students who were in attendance were disappointed as the fire never took shape in the section of prairie along Highway 19. Student workers equipped with protective suits and drip torches attempted to start the blaze, but after about 20 minutes it became clear the prairie would not catch.
“We were not able to conduct the burn due to high humidity in both the air and burnable biomass. Prescribed burns require that many abiotic variables be met,” said Natural Lands Manager Wesley Abbot Braker, who led the burn attempt. A mix of these factors along with time constraints meant no burn that particular afternoon.
While setting the Natural Lands on fire sounds chaotic, the process itself is carefully planned. Wind conditions were taken into consideration and workers carried water backpacks, along with a 50 gallon backup tank of water. A 20 gallon pressure sprayer was also on hand. The fire department was also notified and at the ready if the blaze spread.
Why does the college want to torch a good chunk of the St. Olaf prairie? “Burning helps get rid of invasive species while helping the life cycle of some native prairie plants that need the fire to open up their seed pods and get that space. So it takes the old dead stuff and allows new stuff to grow in its place,” explained Natural Lands Technician Hahns Huebsch ’24.
While the initial prairie burn was thwarted, there are plans for another attempt in early November and a burn of a different section of the Natural Lands in the spring.