Extensive planning for the use of prescribed fire
On July 19, 2023, prescribed fire managers from Audubon Canyon Ranch conducted a 92-acre prescribed burn at Donnell Ranch in Sonoma County. The goals of this prescribed burn were to reduce wildfire risk within oak woodland adjacent to highways and reduce invasive grasses.
In the afternoon during the later part of the prescribed burn operation, a portion of the smoke shifted and resulted in unexpected smoky conditions in Sonoma Valley. This led to questions from residents about timing, permitting, and notification.
Prescribed burning is an effective tool throughout the year and the timing is determined by factors such as wind and weather forecasts, fuel moisture within the burn unit, and whether the prescribed burn will achieve the objectives for the land.
Our planning for any prescribed burn is intensive and extensive and includes a burn plan, a smoke management plan, and a communication plan, in addition to many days and hours of preparation on the ground.
Burn Plan, Smoke Management Plan, and fire effects monitoring
The Donnell Ranch burn plan was reviewed and approved by a qualified burn boss and by CAL FIRE.
The Donnell Ranch smoke management plan was reviewed and approved by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, which also provided day-of approval based on weather forecasting models predicting adequate smoke dispersion.
A Fire Effects Monitoring team was also monitoring weather, fire, and smoke behavior on the ranch throughout the day.
The firing operation went as planned. For most of the day’s operations, we experienced weather, fire behavior, and smoke conditions in line with the forecast and prescribed burn objectives. However, as we determined that conditions had shifted and some of the smoke was being carried into the Sonoma Valley area, we transitioned to wrapping up the burn and extinguishing remaining heat in the burn area.
Notification about prescribed burning
Our notification process leading up to this burn included a press release to all local print, radio, and broadcast media, local government (City of Sonoma), several Sonoma County supervisors, local fire agencies, REDCOM (So Co Sherriff), Watch Duty app, and our own social media. Some neighboring properties were notified directly about the prescribed burn by the landowner and by the burn team.
Prescribed fire is an important tool to reduce the impact of catastrophic megafires and improve the resiliency of many of California’s ecosystems. At Audubon Canyon Ranch we are dedicated to helping create and steward landscapes for the benefit of all.
We recommend connecting on Instagram at @fire.forward and on the WatchDuty app for the most up-to-date notifications.