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Use of Prescribed Fire

MnDOT Policy OP001
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Policy statement

This policy sets forth requirements for the use of prescribed fire within the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) that will manage its inherent risks and ensure safe, professional, and beneficial use.

Use of prescribed fire will accomplish specific vegetation management objectives and its use works with other vegetation management techniques in a manner that optimizes the efficiency and effectiveness of vegetation management. Use of prescribed fire is for managing vegetation on all MnDOT land including roadsides, safety rest areas, storm water treatment facilities, wetland mitigations, and around MnDOT buildings as appropriate.

MnDOT use of prescribed fire will follow the procedures set forth in this policy and the standards, qualifications, and guidelines adhered to by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (MN DNR) policy. In situations where this refers to administrative or organizational structures specific to the MN DNR, MnDOT will parallel them to the extent practical within the MnDOT organizational structure.

MnDOT is committed to the interagency collaboration that is necessary for it to run a prescribed fire program. MnDOT will allow its prescribed fire crews to be available for the interagency cooperation on wildfires and prescribed fires. MnDOT will in turn need to rely on these agencies for training and for assistance on some its own prescribed fires.

Reason for policy

Vegetation management is an important component of MnDOT operations. Management of roadside vegetation provides a safe clear zone for travelling vehicles and protects the infrastructure by allowing drainage and controlling erosion.

Vegetation often needs management for other purposes such as treatment of storm water runoff, trapping of blowing and drifting snow, weed control and aesthetics; as well as wildlife habitat, wetland mitigation, preservation of native plant communities and rare species, carbon sequestration, and production of biomass fuels where appropriate. MnDOT is required by Minnesota Statutes §160.23 to control noxious weeds on its right-of-way.

MnDOT is also required under Minnesota Statutes §18B.063 to “use integrated pest management techniques in its management of public lands, including roadside rights-of-way,” and to “use vegetation that minimizes the need for pesticides and added nutrients. In order to do so, MnDOT needs to manage for appropriate vegetation using a variety of tools and techniques.

Prescribed fire is an important part of integrated vegetation management that meets the needs outlined above. Prescribed fire improves the growth of native vegetation that can out-compete weeds, compliments the use of mowing and herbicides, and is an effective brush control technique. Adherence to best practices reduces risks in the use of prescribed fire.

Who needs to know this policy

MnDOT personnel who are:

  • involved in vegetation management
  • planning for or conducting prescribed fires
  • supervising employees who are involved in prescribed fire
  • contracting for prescribed fire services on MnDOT property

Procedures

Establish roles and responsibilities

MnDOT will designate a Prescribed Fire Program Coordinator to provide the support and oversight necessary to ensure the safe and effective use of prescribed fire as a vegetation management tool.

Establish a written prescribed fire plan

All prescribed fires on MnDOT property must comply with a written prescribed fire plan. This plan must have clearly defined and attainable vegetation management objectives and provide for the protection of public safety including human life, health, and property. During plan development, input from MnDOT functional areas with a stake in the proposed use of prescribed fire described is important. The Prescribed Fire Program Coordinator or a qualified individual to whom the Prescribed Fire Program Coordinator has delegated this authority with the approval of the respective office or district must approve the plan. The plan must include the components required in the MN DNR policy. Templates for prescribed fire plans can be found on the MnDOT prescribed fire website or follow this link, Prescribed Fire Plan Template. An open burning permit is obtained from the MN DNR before the fire can be started, Minnesota Statutes §88.16.

Establish qualifications and standards for prescribed fires

All MnDOT employees conducting prescribed fires will meet the qualifications and the standards for training, employee safety, and physical fitness set forth by the MN DNR policy. The MnDOT Prescribed Fire Program Coordinator will certify employees as meeting the appropriate qualifications. Due to the newness of the prescribed fire program at MnDOT, MnDOT personnel supervising a fire will meet one of the following interim qualifications:

Available options for interim qualifications:

  • At least 10 years of experience in prescribed or wild land fire in fuel types common to roadside prescribed burns, with at least two of those years including experience in a coordinating or supervisory role or
  • At least 5 years of experience in prescribed or wild land fire in fuel types common to roadside prescribed burns and all required/recommended training (not including task books) to the level of Minnesota Ignition Specialist Type 2.

Qualifiers:

  • Restrictions: Personnel operating under these interim qualifications will only supervise on fires with a low complexity rating.
  • Expiration Date: This interim qualification is valid for five years after the effective date of this document, after which prescribed fires must be under the supervision of personnel who fully meet qualifications set forth by the MN DNR as described above.

Contractors hired to conduct prescribed fires on MnDOT land must meet the qualifications and the standards for training, personnel protective equipment, and physical fitness set forth by the MN DNR policy. Contracts for such work must include insurance and indemnity provisions approved by MnDOT Contract Management.

Establish traffic control plan

Prescribed firework on roadsides must be coordinated with district traffic office or traffic engineer. Any necessary traffic control will follow all applicable standards in the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, with advanced warning signs that read “Controlled Burn Ahead,” “Prescribed Fire Ahead,” and/or “Smoke Over Road.”

Follow smoke management plan

MnDOT prescribed fires must follow the smoke management guidelines in the MN Smoke Management Plan, including guidance on minimizing impacts to downwind smoke receptors (Section 4.2.3, Smoke Management, and Dispersion). A primary goal of smoke management on roadside prescribed fires is to avoid or minimize impacts on traffic. In most situations, fires will only occur when the wind will direct smoke away from traffic. The impacts of smoke on traffic must use modified ignition techniques, traffic controls, or other methods that will effectively minimize smoke impacts and ensure public safety.

Establish non-MnDOT lane prescribed fire protocols

MnDOT employees may be involved in burning non-MnDOT lands. This may be done as part of a collaborative effort with other agencies, non-profit organizations or private landowners, or it may involve situations where doing so simplifies the execution of the prescribed fire. When MnDOT initiates a fire that will include non-MnDOT lands, the form Grant of Permission to Burn Lands not Administered by MnDOT must be signed by each non-MnDOT landowner involved and the form(s) included as part of the prescribed fire plan. Liability for any damages resulting from the prescribed fire will be the responsibility of the agency initiating the fire unless there is a previous agreement to share or transfer this responsibility.

Forms/instructions

Definitions

Prescribed Fire

A prescribed fire is the intentional application of running fire to a defined area of land under pre-determined conditions that will allow personnel to safely contain the fire within the planned boundaries and cause the fire to achieve desired vegetation management objectives.

MnDOT DNR Policy

Standards for the use of prescribed fire set forth by the MN DNR Operational Order #47 and the MN DNR Prescribed Burn Handbook.

Complexity Rating

The degree of difficulty of a prescribed fire as determined by evaluation of the proposed fire by following the process described in the Prescribed Fire Complexity Rating System Guide, a document created by the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, an organization that sets national standards for wildland firefighting and prescribed fire.

Responsibilities

Prescribed Fire Program Coordinator

  • Determine department standards for prescribed fire activity
  • Ensure compliance with prescribed fire standards
  • Certify qualifications of fire crew personnel. Get assistance from the Minnesota Interagency Fire Center (MIFC) when certifying higher-level positions
  • Provide technical support to new and established fire crews
  • Approve burn plans prepared by district Burn Bosses or Fire Coordinators prior to plan implementation, or delegate this responsibility to a qualified individual with the approval of the respective office or district
  • Coordinate training and continuing education for prescribed fire personnel
  • Coordinate opportunities for interagency collaboration with fire crews
  • Collaborate with other agencies on statewide prescribed fire issues

District Burn Boss

  • Achieve and maintain qualification as a Minnesota Burn Boss Type 3 or higher
  • Coordinate prescribed fire activity at the district level. Prioritize sites for burns in conjunction with roadside vegetation manager
  • Write burn plans and perform advanced planning and site prep necessary to be able to burn on short notice when the weather allows
  • Lead prescribed fire crew on prescribed fires
  • Implement prescribed fires to meet vegetation management objectives
  • Ensure compliance with prescribed fire policy
  • Attend annual training to maintain qualifications
  • Collaborate with and assist other agencies on fire activities and issues

District Fire Coordinator

This position is for districts without a qualified burn boss or fire crew, but with a need for prescribed fire. This person should be someone involved in vegetation management, such as the district roadside vegetation manager.

  • Coordinate prescribed fire activity at the district level. Prioritize sites for prescribed burns and write burn plans.
  • Implement prescribed fire with the assistance of crews from other districts or a central MnDOT fire crew, by hiring contractors, or by collaborating with interagency fire crews.
  • Coordinate district prescribed fire crew members, if applicable.

Prescribed Fire Crew members

  • Maintain qualifications as Wild land Firefighter Type 2 or higher
  • Conduct prescribed fires under the leadership of the Burn Boss
  • Be available to burn on short notice when the weather allows
  • Attend annual training to maintain qualifications
  • Assist other agencies on fire activities

Frequently asked questions

Q: Why is prescribed fire used at MnDOT?

A: Fire is an effective vegetation management tool that improves the health of certain vegetation types. Healthier vegetation is better able to control erosion, filter storm water runoff, and resist weed invasion. Fire is also important for managing some rare plant species that grow on MnDOT roadsides, for establishing native vegetation on wetland mitigations and for maintaining wildflowers and native grasses planted for scenic and aesthetic reasons.

Q: Who conducts prescribed fires at MnDOT?

A: Employees who have received the same training as wild land firefighters nationwide conduct prescribed fires at MnDOT. Crews with significantly more training and experience lead the team. All prescribed fire personnel are equipped with safety equipment and tools to allow them to manage the fire. Contractors who are required to follow the same standards as MnDOT employees also conduct some prescribed fires.

Q: How is a prescribed fire kept under control?

A: Prescribed fires are lit only under certain narrow weather parameters that have been identified ahead of time as conditions that will cause the fire to achieve the vegetation management objectives yet still allow crews to keep it contained. Careful planning, site preparation, training, and firefighting equipment also contribute to crews’ abilities to use fire safely.

Q: What are the impacts of roadside fires on traffic?

A: Since prescribed fires are only ignited under carefully chosen weather conditions, the wind direction is usually sufficient to direct smoke away from traffic, making impacts on traffic minimal. In some cases, smoke will drift over adjacent roads or ramps, but not without prior preparations being made for traffic controls and modified ignition techniques to minimize the impacts on traffic.

Related information

Minnesota Statutes, section 160.23
“Road authorities, including road authorities of cities shall cause all noxious weeds on their respective highways and streets to be cut down or otherwise destroyed or eradicated as often as may be necessary to prevent the ripening or scattering of seed and other propagating parts of such weeds.”

Minnesota Statutes, section 18B.063
“The state shall use integrated pest management techniques in its management of public lands, including roadside rights-of-way, parks, and forests; and shall use planting regimes that minimize the need for pesticides and added nutrients.”

MN DNR Operational Order #47
“Purpose of this Minnesota MN DNR operational order is to guide and to support the Department's use of prescribed burning in achieving natural resource management objectives. (Burning piles of natural vegetative material is covered by existing permit requirements and not this policy).”

Minnesota Statutes, section 88.16
“Except as provided in subdivision 2, and section 88.17, it shall be unlawful to start or have any open fire without the written permission of the commissioner, a forest officer, or an authorized fire warden.”

MN DNR Prescribed Burn Handbook
“Prescribed burning is a tool that is used by resource managers to achieve various land management goals. Minnesota MN DNR policies and procedures relating to prescribed burning are contained in MN DNR Operational Order #47 , Prescribed Burn Guidelines. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Prescribed Burn Handbook is intended to supplement the policy found in the Operational Order with specific instructions, forms, examples and tools the fire manager can use.”

MN Smoke Management Plan
“Prescribed fire and managed wildfire have been used in Minnesota for many years to improve and maintain natural resources. Those agencies that agree to this Smoke Management Plan (SMP) agree to apply the provisions of the plan to fires that they ignite or to naturally ignited fires that they manage. This Smoke Management Plan is based on Section VI. “Smoke Management Programs” of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Interim Air Quality Policy on Wildland and Prescribed Fires.

History of policy updates or amendments

Amended

Policy OP001 – Use of Prescribed Fire, established 8-8-2012

Ownership

Responsible Senior Officer

Susan M. Mulvihill, P.E.
Deputy Commissioner and Chief Engineer
sue.mulvihill@state.mn.us
651-366-4811

Policy Owner

Lynn Clarkowski
Director, Office of Environmental Stewardship
lynn.clarkowski@state.mn.us
651-366-3602

Policy Contact

Ken Graeve
Botanist, Office of Environmental Stewardship
kenneth.graeve@state.mn.us
651-366-3613