Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

National Fire Plan banner

National Fire Plan Success Story

New Machine Builds Better Fuel Breaks on the Prairie
Huron Wetland Management and Wildland Fire Management, South Dakota
National Fire Plan - Fuels Reduction

blackline machine in operation
Spray heads on either side of both chambers of the blackline machine create a wet line while fuels burn away inside the chamber. Photo courtesy USFWS.

The Huron Wetland Management and Wildland Fire Management staff in South Dakota have tested and approved the use of a new "blackline" machine that will allow them to create more effective fire breaks throughout the prairie regions of North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas.

This specialized equipment reduces hazardous fuels while quickly creating fire break lines, especially in WUI areas or where natural fire breaks such as roads or waterways aren't available. It is particularly beneficial in the plains area where bulldozing or disking the native sod to create a fire line is prohibited.

During the evaluation process, experts in environmental safety, heavy equipment safety, fire and operations and fire line safety, monitored and observed the operation, which included creating a five-foot wide, mile long fire line in an hour.

The machine consists of an enclosed burning chamber with propane burners and a water spray system, mounted on skids. As it is pulled along the ground by a tractor, dry vegetation is ignited by the gas burners, and burning occurs within the chamber. The water spray heads create a wet line on either side of the burning chamber, preventing the sideways spread of flames as the equipment moves forward.

Typically, a fire break along the boundaries of private lands near waterfowl nesting areas is a 20- to 30-foot wide mowed area. Adding this "black line" to the mowed fire break provides an additional safety measure that helps fire staff complete more prescribed burns throughout the spring and fall and reduces the risk of uncontrollable wildfires.

The blackline machine was developed in South Africa. There, it is used to manage rangeland fires and create protective areas between mines and communities. Designed for use on flat prairies and savannahs, it can handle grass up to three feet tall.

Because the organic component of prairies is higher than that of the South African rangeland, fire staff considered whether that would create a risk of creeping fires. Slowing the speed at which the equipment was pulled, and adding foam to the water were ways they addressed that issue.