This article is part of the Wildland Fire Learning In Depth series. It is designed for students who want to learn more about fire. Find the complete series on the Fire subject site.
Fire managers may “prescribe” a treatment for resource benefits or research. This may include lighting a fire in an area for various purposes after careful planning and under controlled conditions.
Prescribed fire is a planned fire; it is also sometimes called a “controlled burn” or “prescribed burn,” and is used to meet management objectives. A prescription is a set of conditions that considers the safety of the public and fire staff, weather, and probability of meeting the burn objectives.
Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools used to manage fire today. A scientific prescription for each fire, prepared in advance, describes its objectives, fuels, size, the precise environmental conditions under which it will burn, and conditions under which it may be suppressed. The fire may be designed to create a mosaic of diverse habitats for plants and animals, to help endangered species recover, or to reduce fuels and thereby prevent a destructive fire.
Prescribed fire also can be the most cost-effective way to maintain certain historic scenes. These include the open grasslands of the Revolutionary War era at Saratoga National Historical Park in New York and the oak-prairie savanna of the Civil War era at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in Missouri.