Wildland Fire

Vibrant orange flames of burning grasses fill the entire image as a thick gray layer of smoke rises into the air.
Grasses burn up in flames as a part of a prescribed burn.

NPS photo by Brady Richards

Wildland fire is a general term describing any non-structure fire that occurs in vegetation such as trees, grasses, and shrubs. Structure fires are composed of human-made objects like buildings or cars. There are essentially two main categories of wildland fire – wildfire and prescribed fire. A wildfire cannot be a prescribed fire.


Wildfires can be started by many different causes. This includes lightning, lava, and even people. Most wildfires in the United States are caused by humans. Every fire, every time, gets a thorough review once the fire is discovered. Multiple factors determine the response fire managers take on a wildfire once it is discovered. There is a desire to categorize a fire as "suppression" or "non-suppression" but frequently it's somewhere in the middle and managers take a variety of actions on a wildfire based on what's outlined in a fire management plan.

A firefighter holding a driptorch walks quickly through a smoky burning field of grasses and weeds.
Prescribed burns are an important part of the management of wildland fire at Acadia National Park.

NPS photo by Brady Richards

Prescribed Fire

A prescribed fire is ignited by fire managers after careful planning, under a set of conditions that must be met prior to ignition, and is carefully monitored. Prescribed fires are carried out for very specific purposes or objectives and may be used to manage certain types of natural and cultural resources.

Fire of 1947 - Burned Area
Map of the burn area from the Fire of 1947

History of Wildland Fire at Acadia

Wildland fire has forever shaped the landscape, from the earliest lighting strike to the use of fire as an agricultural tool by ancestral native peoples. This was especially true during and after the widespread Fire of 1947 which blanketed much of the island in flames.

Historic fire towers once dotted this landscape, and in the case of Beech Mountain fire tower, still do. In the past, people used these fire towers to spot wildland fire and supress it. Today, the National Park Service Wildland Fire Program has changed the way we view wildland fire. Fire has become an important part of how we manage the landscape at Acadia.
A firefighter stands on a gravel walkway in front of a flaming acre field. Jordan Pond is viewable in the background.
Acadia National Park's Fire Boss carefully observes a prescribed fire at Jordan Pond House.

NPS photo by Brady Richards

Fire Management Program

The fire management program at Acadia National Park performs a full range of wildland fire management operations and services, including fire prevention, education, preparedness, suppression, prescribed fire, hazard fuels management, the reduction of wildland/urban interface hazards, monitoring, and research. The program also conducts wildland fire prevention operations and provides fire management assistance to ten other National Park Service (NPS) units in New England including Cape Cod, which along with Acadia National Park make up the New England Fire Management Zone.

Some of the activities carried out by the fire management program include:

  • Wildland urban interface education and outreach
  • Operation of five wildland fire suppression engines and one water tender
  • Maintenance of a hundred-person fire cache and a twenty-person fire cache
  • Maintenance of a trained cadre of primary and incidental wildland firefighters
  • Use of prescribed fire for management of park vistas and cultural landscapes
  • Mechanical removal of hazard fuels in high use areas
  • Creation and maintenance of boundary fuel breaks along park boundaries and around selected park facilities
  • Monitoring of prescribed fires and long-term forest conditions
  • Research into fire effects and the long-term history of wildland fire in the park

The fire management staff also administers the Rural Fire Assistance Program, which provides federal financial assistance to rural fire departments that assist the park.

Mobilization of park and other New England Fire Management firefighters to out-of-state fires is coordinated and directed by the fire management staff. This mobilization service is also provided to wildland firefighters from other federal agencies in the area, including the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and to local Wabanaki tribes.

Structural fire prevention operations include the inspection and maintenance of fire extinguishers, acquisition and maintenance of fire detection and fire suppression systems in park buildings, and coordination with local fire departments that provide structural fire suppression services for park buildings. The fire management staff also provides professional, technical, administrative, and logistical support to the fire management programs of the ten other NPS units in New England.

These programs protect the lives of park staff, visitors, and neighbors; provide wildland and structural fire protection to the 35,500+ acres of land and 200+ buildings that make up Acadia National Park; and assist ten other National Park Service units in the protection of their people and resources from fire.


More About Wildland Fire at Acadia

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    Last updated: May 15, 2024

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