It’s a yearly ritual those of us who live in or around the prairie have become familiar with — the annual prescribed burning season. Old growth is burned to give way to new growth, controlled evasive species, reduce weeds — and many other benefits.
Prairie fires are not only necessary for the health of the prairie, but they’re a great photography opportunity and each year I try to find a couple of really good fires to add to my photograph collection. Recently, myself, along with another person, set out to find a fire. This year, we struck gold.
As we were driving down a highway, we spotted the glow. The orange glow of the fire graced the night sky, smoke pouring from the large fire, creating orange billows that rose from the earth. The chase was on.
The controlled burn was spread across the entire one-mile section. Upon arriving to the area, there was fire as far as the eye could see. It was an incredible sight. Lines upon lines of fire consumed the dry grass, filling the air with flames and smoke.
We drove to the far section, where the fire was more intense. Several other vehicles were in the area watching the incredible scene that was playing out before us. I snapped several photos, getting right up to the fence-line to grab some incredible shots of the flames consuming the grass.
As the flames became more intense, I noticed for the first time how fire creates its own weather system. It was incredible. As the fire-driven wind came up, the flames became taller and taller. In the distance all that could be seen was a giant wall of brilliant orange smoke, rising up in tall billows. Then I realized what was happening — to large fire lines were merging into what became my most powerful experience with grass fires.
As the two fires combined, the winds became stronger. The smoke pillar became taller and brighter — it was like the sky itself was on fire. It was like riding out a storm — a storm generated solely by the power of fire. I had always heard of this, but had never experienced it for myself in all the years I’ve been photographing the fires.
As soon as the two fires merged — the storm was over. The wind calmed down and ashes, along with the smoke, were blown all over everyone watching the fire along the road. I had tears streaming down my face — from the sting of the sudden smoke that was blown back at us.
And just like that, the sky darkened. The winds quietened. The fire on that side of the land was out. It had served its purpose, completed its life cycle. I had just witnessed the death of a well-managed fire. I was also reminded of the sheer power of nature — and how quickly things can turn around during a fire of that magnitude.
On the way out of the fire area, other areas of the pasture continued to burn and we stopped at a cattle chute to capture the glow of the fire behind the chute. It was an incredible portrait opportunity.
Still another photo we managed to capture was a row of trees, with the glow of the fire behind them and Venus right above them.