Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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Fires - 1946
Nature Bulletin No. 85   September 28, 1946
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Clayton F. Smith, President
Roberts Mann, Superintendent of Conservation

FIRES - 1946
It happens every fall. Thousands of acres of vacant land are being burned-off: some of them because of matches, cigarettes or pipe dottle carelessly tossed aside along the highways and along the trails; some of them set afire by thoughtless boys; most of them deliberately burned by people who believe they will improve the crop of grass next year.

That is stupid. And if you start a fire which burns over another person's property you are liable to arrest and heavy penalty, under the Illinois law, unless you have given that person proper notice of your intention. Fires harm -- they never help. The tough seeds and roots of the worthless grasses and weeds survive a fire but the good nutritious grasses and most wildflowers are killed. Further, all the winter food and cover for birds and other wildlife are destroyed.

We are experiencing a severe drought. The luxuriant vegetation of summer is dead and dry as powder. Some fires rage out of control. They spread into woodlands and kill the young trees, shrubs and seedlings. If the bark on the trunks of the larger trees does not actually burn it often gets so hot that the inner growing layer is injured. Then a cavity develops at the base of the tree, fungus and insects enlarge that cavity, and eventually the tree dies or topples over.

Several serious peat-bog fires have occurred recently, ignited by grass fires which swept over them. Peat beds are formed by the accumulation of decaying vegetation in low poorly-drained areas underlaid by rock, marl, hard-pan or watertight clay. Some are thousands of years old and 20 or more feet deep. Others, as in Skokie valley, are shallow. Three peat fires in the forest preserves were extinguished at great expense by digging trenches around them, deep down to the mineral subsoil, and flooding them with great quantities of water. Others on private property may alternately burn and smolder for many months. Each will leave a depression filled with powdery reddish ash that will be barren for years.


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