Forest Service explains prescribed fire in six minutes

Prescribed fire
Prescribed fire. A still image from the USFS video below.

The U.S. Forest Service has released the fifth in a series of videos about fuel management and fire. This six-minute episode is about the planning and implementation of prescribed fire.

Concerning the terminology used in the video, I was pleased that it is called prescribed fire, and not prescribed burn, or the awful term that seems to have been in vogue during the last couple of years, good fire.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

5 thoughts on “Forest Service explains prescribed fire in six minutes”

  1. Florida is the lightning capital of the USA, with lightning starting over 5,000 wildfires annually, most of which go unnoticed because we are also one of the wettest with the most rain. Most of the prescribed burns facilitate factory tree farmers’ greed because unwanted underbrush takes nutrients and water away from their crop. Why does one of the rainiest states in the USA have more prescribed burns than any other state in our nation? Florida has over 88,000 controlled burns annually and only about 5,000 wildfires annually; Florida, being one of the rainiest regions in North America, most wildfires are caused by lightning and don’t have a chance to cause problems. This form of tree farming destroys valued habitat, diminishes Florida’s topsoil in our primarily sandy soils, and promotes desertification. Florida has become a “right to burn” state, where government and private entities burn 2.1 million acres every year. We are led down this path by an industry that promotes prescribed burns for profit. They say fire creates habitat. Actually, fire destroys habitat. They say controlled burns prevent wildfires, but there isn’t a single case documented in Florida. They are repeatedly burning the same tracts regularly to maintain a false narrative about the nature of an area. They lobby our government for grant money to burn natural areas. They need to be stopped. Florida is the one of wettest state right behind Hawaii.

    1. I’ve heard similar sentiment from USFS employees in Florida. Lots of publicly funded prescribed fire for private profit…

      I’m sure it’s only part of the story. Leaves do dry out and wildfires are real down there

    2. While it is true that Florida receives copious amounts of lightning and rain, that weather cycle shaped its ecosystems to be driven by fire. In a normal year, there is a transition between the dry months of April and May where pop up thunderstorms start wildfires, as they have for thousands of years. And when the summer afternoon showers as well as tropical systems produce those rains you speak of, it refreshes those ecosystems producing that lush growth Florida is known for. That is the cycle Florida’s prescribed fire managers aim to mimic on a much smaller scale then occurred historically. As the video explains, prescribed fire doesn’t prevent wildfires but it lessens their intensity so the ecological and social impacts are also reduced. By and large in Florida, large timber companies (though not state agencies and private landowners) have not applied prescribed fires for decades as herbicide treatments to reduce competition can be applied at nearly anytime without potential smoke impacts but also none of the ecological lift of a prescribed fire. When there is a wildfire, these same large, multi national timber companies expect a response from the Florida Forest Service and to a lesser extent USFS to protect their investment which is a difficult proposition to understand. If you doubt the benefit of prescribed fire versus typical industrial forestry practices in Florida, I invite you to drive Fish Camp Rd on Lochloosa WMA (managed by a state agency)in Alachua Co. The south side of that road has received extensive prescribed fire, the north has not. The bobwhites, fox squirrels and gopher tortoises sure seem to like the fire maintained side better!

  2. Another excellent explanation of the critical process of Prescribed Burns, by Joe F.
    Three thoughts:
    1) I wish he would have explained the importance of not taking on too large an area to be ignited, in case one of the parameters, like weather, make conditions fall out of the Burn Window;
    2) More emphasis on the need to pre-thin a stand prior to burning, to lower Basal Area and density, and also to remove the smaller ladder fuels; and, lastly
    3) Emphasize the importance of “24 hour watch” under the burn is entirely out. Too many Rx fires have escaped because this has not been done.


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