Prescribed Fire Overview Case Study

Prescribed burns are ignited to reduce hazardous fuel loads near developed areas, manage landscapes, restore natural woodlands and for research purposes.

View the text version of the Prescribed Fire Overview Case Study.

Prescribed Fire Overview Case Study

Prescribed burns are ignited to reduce hazardous fuel loads near developed areas, manage landscapes, restore natural woodlands and for research purposes.

View the multimedia version of the Prescribed Fire Overview Case Study. (Flash Required)

Prescribed Fire Overview Case Study—Text Version

Prescribed Fire: A Tool to Restore and Maintain Ecosystems

Slide 1

NARRATOR: For thousands of years people have used fire to help modify their environment.

ONSCREEN: Beginning with early American Indians to present-day public and private land managers, people have recognized the benefits of prescribed fire.

Slide 2

NARRATOR: Fire can be destructive, but it can also be beneficial.

ONSCREEN: In 1958, the National Park Service introduced prescribed fire when a drought made the Everglades National Park vulnerable to wildfire.

Slide 3

NARRATOR: For a prescribed fire to be successful, it needs careful planning, favorable weather, skilled implementation, evaluation and lessons learned to be applied toward the next fire.

ONSCREEN: Benefits of prescribed fire include:

  • Reduced fire hazard
  • Greater safety for firefighters and the public
  • Cost efficiency
  • Improved soil nutrients
  • Increased and diversified habitat for wildlife management

Slide 4

NARRATOR: Conducting a prescribed fire requires significant planning beforehand, as well as step-by-step evaluations after.

ONSCREEN:

  • THE PROCESS: PLANNING
  • THE PROCESS: PREPARATION
  • THE PROCESS: IMPLEMENTATION
  • THE PROCESS:EVALUATION
  • AFTER THE BURN

Slide 5—PLANNING

NARRATOR: Fire managers, when deciding whether a prescribed fire is needed, seek the input of many specialists, including air-quality and wildlife experts.

ONSCREEN: Once fire managers decide a prescribed fire is needed, they develop a plan.

Slide 6 -PLANNING

NARRATOR: The Prescribed Fire Plan describes the fire’s purpose, objectives, resources, preparations and risks. It also specifies who needs to be notified prior to the fire.

ONSCREEN: Public officials, media, neighboring agencies, park employees and neighbors, local businesses and those with health issues need to be notified before a fire.

Slide 7—PLANNING

NARRATOR: Plans are usually prepared months before the burn date.

ONSCREEN: Once written, technical specialists review the plan for adherence to safety, public law and current policy.

Slide 8—PREPARATION

NARRATOR: After the park superintendent approves the plan, control lines and monitoring plots are set up and critical personnel notified. Other preparations may include closing roads and protecting natural resources.

ONSCREEN: Permits from county, state and federal agencies are sometimes required because of the potential danger smoke can pose to air quality and public health.

Slide 9—PREPARATION

NARRATOR: The Burn Boss assigns Ignition, Holding and Monitoring Groups.

ONSCREEN: All group members are given a time and location for a briefing prior to the burn.

Slide 10—IMPLEMENTATION

NARRATOR: The day of the burn, the Burn Boss presents the plan in a formal briefing that includes the prescription parameters, personnel assignments and safety hazards. He also answers questions from the burn crew. As a final check, a test fire is conducted.

ONSCREEN: A successful test shows that the objectives can be met and the fire controlled. If the test is unsuccessful, the burn is rescheduled.

Slide 11—IMPLEMENTATION

NARRATOR: Once the Burn Boss gives the okay, he or she notifies the park dispatch office that the prescribed fire has been ignited.

ONSCREEN: Ignition can occur from the ground using matches, fusees, pneumatic or drip torches, or aerially with a heli-torch or PSD (plastic sphere dispenser) “ping pong balls.”

Slide 12—IMPLEMENTATION

NARRATOR: During the ignition phase, the crew holds the fire within designated boundaries. They use hand tools, hoselays or other equipment to patrol the perimeter and watch for potential threats inside the burn.

ONSCREEN: A prescribed fire may last from hours to weeks, depending on weather, objectives and fuel types. Grass, for instance, burns faster than timber.

Slide 13—IMPLEMENTATION

NARRATOR: The fire’s behavior is closely watched to ensure it is within the range required in the prescription.

ONSCREEN: The monitors observe flame length, rate of spread and scorch height. They also record weather and smoke observations.

Slide 14—IMPLEMENTATION

NARRATOR: Any fire that escapes the prescribed burn unit is deemed a priority and receives a quick response. If those on scene are unable to control it, additional resources are summoned.

ONSCREEN: Although every precaution is taken to ensure fire doesn't escape, fire and weather can be unpredictable.

Slide 15—IMPLEMENTATION

NARRATOR: To minimize the risk of escape, the crew may completely extinguish areas near the burn edge. They also patrol the fire to ensure no chance of escape.

ONSCREEN: Depending on the fuel type, patrol and mop-up may last from hours to weeks.

Slide 16—IMPLEMENTATION

NARRATOR: Prior to releasing the assigned personnel from the burn, the Burn Boss conducts an After Action Review, or AAR.

ONSCREEN: During the AAR, the group discusses the plan, what worked and did not work and what can be learned. AAR is an invaluable training tool.

Slide 17—EVALUATION

NARRATOR: After the crew declares the burn extinguished, the Burn Boss prepares a final report, which is archived for future burn bosses, researchers and other personnel.

ONSCREEN: The final report includes information on weather, fire behavior, and smoke dispersal, as well as the original burn plan, objectives and total costs.

Slide 18—EVALUATION

NARRATOR: Once the burn is finished, researchers immediately visit all monitoring plots to collect initial information, and then return at intervals of one, two, five and 10 years. The information they collect is analyzed and compared with that of other plots after burns to detect any changes over time.

ONSCREEN: Post-burn results in monitoring plots are compared with test plots to distinguish between the fire’s effects and other environmental conditions that may have caused any differences.

Slide 19—AFTER THE BURN

NARRATOR: After a prescribed burn, the ground and plants are blackened and are often described in news reports as “destroyed by fire.” But the land has already begun a process of renewal.

ONSCREEN: Fire has swept away the debris and clutter, and opened up the forest or grassland to new possibilities.

Slide 20—AFTER THE BURN

NARRATOR: Many of the plants and animals that live in these landscapes have adapted to fire, even depending on it for survival.

ONSCREEN: The return of fire means a cycle of death for some, a rebirth for others.

Slide 21—AFTER THE BURN

NARRATOR: Without fire, the forest of the giant sequoia becomes choked with dead limbs and needles on the forest floor, making it difficult for young seedlings to grow.

ONSCREEN: Heat from a fire pops open sequoia cones, and flames create a hospitable bed of ashes for their seeds, which now receive plenty of sunlight.

Slide 22—AFTER THE BURN

NARRATOR: Browsing animals, including elk and deer, find fresh tender grass and shoots to eat in the area where the fire burned.

ONSCREEN: Animals and birds begin foraging for food soon after the prescribed fire area cools.

Slide 23—AFTER THE BURN

NARRATOR: By conducting prescribed fires at scheduled times and under controlled conditions, the communities within and around our national parks can be better protected from wildfires.

ONSCREEN: Prescribed fires also reduce the fuels that threaten firefighters and the public.

Slide 24—AFTER THE BURN

NARRATOR: By using prescribed fire as a tool today, we can avoid the serious consequences of wildfires burning under extreme conditions, which can result in the irreplaceable loss of life, property and resources.

ONSCREEN: Prescribed fire is one of the most effective and efficient tools that park managers use to carry out the mission of the National Park Service.

NARRATOR: Venetia Gempler