Do prescribed fires prevent wildfires?

Prescribed Fire June 27, 2013 Print Friendly and PDF

Generally speaking, prescribed fire use is not intended to prevent wildfires. The idea of preventing wildfires is a misnomer. The potential for fire occurrence depends primarily on fuel (e.g., loading, type, arrangement, moisture content) and weather conditions. However, immediately following most prescribed fires the likelihood of a wildfire is reduced because of a lack of fine fuels (that were consumed by the prescribed fire), but given vegetation (fuel) regrowth, the chance for ignition returns. In fact, increased fire frequency generally promotes or favors fine fuels (e.g., grasses) that are easier to ignite as compared to large diameter fuels. However, when used every 3-10 years depending on fuel type, prescribed fires can reduce fuel loads that otherwise could contribute to increased wildfire behavior given the right conditions.

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.