As burn boss Joel Carlson used a torch to set a test fire in a section of field abutting Appleton Farms on Saturday, field technician Chris Egan stood 20 yards away, reviewing factors that would help keep a fire moving on the proper path.
“You need a consistent, steady wind,’’ said Egan, correcting the misconception that a prescribed fire is best set in perfectly still conditions. “When you don’t have wind, fire will choose its own path.’’
Carlson and Egan, consultants for Sandwich-based Northeast Forest and Fire Management, were part of a team that carefully burned 3 acres on the 259-acre Appleton Farms property. Located in Ipswich and Hamilton and managed by the Trustees of Reservations, the land has 5 miles of carriage trails surrounded by woods.
It was the first time the burn technique had been used on the property, although the plan is to use it more often, according to Russell Hopping, ecology program director for the trustees.
In recent years, prescribed burns have been used at two North Andover properties administered by the trustees - Weir Hill and Ward Reservation - as well as at sites on Martha’s Vineyard.
“For us, it’s primarily a means of preserving and restoring rare species habitat,’’ Hopping said, referring specifically to the New England blazing star, a wildflower that grows in the field. When the thatch is burned off, he said, it creates better habitat for the wildflower to grow next year.
The nine-person crew included the consultants - paid a $3,000 fee - firefighters from the state’s Department of Conservation and Recreation and the town of Hamilton (the fire was on the Hamilton section of the property), and staff from the Trustees of Reservations. Hamilton Fire Chief Phil Stevens was also on site as an observer.
“This is a very good training tool for firefighters, as well as meeting the ecological objectives,’’ said Andy Regan, District 5 fire warden for the DCR. “A fire is easier to fight when it’s prescribed, as opposed to wildfire.’’
The team ran through a long safety checklist and review of the burn plan. The actual burn took one hour and 45 minutes out of a five-hour day that included preparation and the post-burn mop-up. As the crew worked, dog walkers and others passed on nearby trails.
“We want people to see and understand what we’re doing and why,’’ Hopping said. “We may not do it every year, but we plan to use fire regularly in the future.’’
In his safety briefing, Carlson instructed information ranger Kim MacIsaac to keep spectators at a safe distance, although very few showed more than passing interest.