Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Kansas Prairie Burn

With only 1/2 an hour left before I would reach my destination, a ranch west of Emporia, Kan., I began to see wide charred fields along either side of the road. As I turned in at Grandview Ranch, dozens of visitors crowded the driveway and open area.

We had gathered to watch a carefully orchestrated prairie burn, designed to help protect the land from invasion of unwanted trees and brush. Five to 10 days after a burn, the land is once again green and growing. And prairie burns leave charred fields on many farms at this time of year.

Owner Jan Jantzen gave us our safety instructions. He said that, during the burn, if caught by the fire - though this is a rare occurrence - we should 'move to black or blue.' Black is already charred ground where there's nothing left to burn and blue is a pond. Then we headed towards the field that Jantzen would burn. Some visitors volunteered to light small patches of grass and then spread these tiny fires towards each other, to get the burn started.

Flames fanned across the pasture with amazing speed, engulfing vegetation as they created row after row of roaring orange blazes and a rather otherworldly landscape.

Finally, the burn slowed and the 'show' ended. Handfuls of spectators road on a farm truck or hoofed it back to the barn area. A trio of country musicians performed in one barn while we chowed down on an old-fashioned chuckwagon supper that began with pulled pork and ended with fresh berry cobbler.

As the sun set, another blaze raced up a nearby hillside and Jantzen prepared for the evening burn event on his second field. Regrettably, storm clouds and a 2 1/2 hour drive home chased me away. I'll have to return next spring.

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