Blatant safety violations show exactly what not to do when using prescribed fire for habitat management
Last weekend (Aug. 13), this video was posted to the Bowmar Bowhunting Youtube page, and it shows Josh Bowmar lighting a prescribed fire from the cab of his truck, catching the vehicle itself on fire, attempting to put the blaze out with a leaf blower, evacuating his gear from inside the cab, and ultimately watching the vehicle burn to the ground. In the video, Bowmar calls his wife, who tells him to document things for insurance purposes, and then he calls 911 to request a fire truck.
OK, first, a few things. I don’t follow the Bowmars (Josh and his wife, Sarah), but I do know they’re famous — or at least infamous — in the world of social media hunting influencers. They were named in a big poaching bust in Nebraska a few years ago, but are evidently still waiting trial for that (it’s been continued until late next month, September 2022). They were in the news years ago for killing a black bear with a spear in Canada, too, which they also filmed. The backlash from the controversial video cost them sponsors, most notably Under Armour.
This post has nothing to do with any of that, or with being a "hit piece" against the Bowmars. I’ve seen it mentioned online multiple times that the truck burning video was actually done on purpose, in the name of “getting content.” I won’t speculate on that.
All that said, the video could be a tutorial on what not to do when conducting a prescribed fire. I've done a fair bit of prescribed fire work myself, and to me, the blatant mistakes were easy to see. But for even more proof, I reached out to Lindsay Thomas Jr., chief communications officer for the National Deer Association, for his input. The NDA routinely touts the benefits of safe burning practices as a habitat management tool, and Thomas himself has years' worth of experience with prescribed fire.
Regardless of whether you’re a Bowmar Bowhunting fan or not, this video shows you the consequences of not taking a burn seriously enough. Here are the most blatant violations Thomas and I saw.
Mistake No. 1: Lighting Fire From the Truck
The drone footage at the beginning of the video shows what looks like a propane torch being used from the driver’s side door, as Bowmar drives around the field, ringing it with flames. It’s obvious fuel gets on the back tire, and of course tire fires aren’t easy to extinguish.
“Years ago, my dad burned up his ATV while lighting prescribed fire,” Thomas told me. “He was steering the ATV with one hand and holding the torch in the other. He wedged the front tire against a small tree, and the engine shut off in gear. While he was trying to get it in neutral and start the engine, the flames that were right behind him caught on some fuel he had spilled on the back of the ATV. He couldn’t start it, so he tried beating out the flames. It was too late. Ever since then, he has owned an ATV-model drip torch, which mounts on the back and has safety features to prevent this very thing. But we have an old ATV frame on the farm that acts as a safety reminder.”
Even better? Wear protective clothing and walk the fire line with a drip torch, the tool designed for this very job.
Mistake No. 2: No Water
Why would anyone set a field on fire without water handy, along with basic hand tools like shovels, rakes, and flappers? Bowmar used a leaf blower to try and extinguish the flames on his truck, and it just seemed to make it all worse.
“If he’d had even one or two 5-gallon cans of water in the truck, he probably could have extinguished the flames while it was just on the frame of the truck,” Thomas said. “If he’d had a shovel, he could have thrown dirt on the flames, which would’ve worked better than the leaf blower, which seemed to just intensify the flames on the tire and paint. A fire-fighting flap ($60) probably could’ve slapped out the flames. Just some basic equipment would’ve helped, but he was woefully unprepared for burning that day.”
Mistake No. 3: No Firebreaks
It seems as if Bowmar was using fire to clear dead, sprayed vegetation in a field prior to planting a food plot. This is a great method for doing a fall plot, and one that I use frequently myself. But just because the surrounding vegetation is mostly green doesn’t excuse the need for firebreaks. Never spray a dead field without disking a ring around it first.
Late in the video, you can see Bowmar scrambling to put out flare-ups on the perimeter of the field. “If firebreaks are there, they’re not adequate,” Thomas said. “That’s an absolute prerequisite. I don’t care how small a job or how many times you’ve done this. He’s lucky he only lost a truck. It gets a little more expensive when you start burning up other people’s land and buildings.”
Mistake No. 4: Cockiness
Bowmar says in the video that he’s burned “thousands of acres” in the past, and never had anything like that happen before. I don’t know how many acres I’ve burned over the years myself, maybe thousands, maybe not, but I do know that every single “touch-and-go” moment I’ve had during a prescribed fire could ultimately be blamed on my own complacency. Last spring, I had a fire break along a field edge that I knew could’ve been done better, but I figured it'd be OK, and we lit the field anyway. The fire jumped the break and scorched a half-acre of brush that we hadn’t planned on burning — brush that was close to my house. Luckily, I had several buddies on hand to help me, all of whom had sprayers and tools and fire-resistant clothing. They snuffed out my mistake before I even knew it had happened (but singed their eyebrows and weren’t too happy with me).
In the video, Bowmar seems to be doing all of the work himself, even though a videographer is obviously there as well. “More people on hand would’ve obviously been good,” Thomas said. “They should have been on their feet monitoring the fire and engaged with the situation instead of flying drones and cameras. Even if the drip-torch operator had just walked on foot as he should have, it would’ve been a better day.”
I’ve written numerous articles about prescribed fire in recent years, and there’s no doubt that the practice is gaining more acceptance and popularity as a management tool. That means more people are “creating content” about it, too. Just be careful about where you're getting advice, and remember that if you’re going to burn, you have to be all-in. Get training first, and always enlist plenty of help. The risks of being complacent and unprepared are incredible, as a few mistakes can compound into a big problem in seconds.
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