Wildland Fire

Prescribed fire in Buffalo National River.

NPS Photo

America’s first National River is in the Ozark Highlands of Northwest Arkansas. For about 8,000 years, periodic fires burned across the landscape. These were set both by natural causes like lightning as well as by humans. In fact, native people regularly used fire management as a means of altering the environment to better suit their needs. They would burn off forested areas to clear land for agriculture, ease of movement, and to aid in hunting. Fire removed most of the brush and young woody growth while leaving the larger trees. These burns, coupled with natural fires, promoted the growth of plant and animal species that were dependent on fire and the changes it made to the environment. Many species present today still depend on periodic fires for their reproduction, growth, and survival.

In the last 100 years, as settlers moved into the region, fires were not allowed to burn. These new settlers saw fire not a a natural process, but instead as a threat to their lives and property. Thousands of years of regular fires came to an end. As a result, openings and grassy spaces disappeared. The once open woodland areas became dense forests. Plants and animals, such as the collared lizard, that thrived in those spaces began to disappear. Park scientists took note of the changes in the ecosystem. They observed how removing fire affected the woodlands. As a result, they suggested that fires should be allowed to burn in those fire-adapted areas.
collared lizard
Collared lizard.

NPS Photo

Fire managers were able to reintroduce fire on the landscape with planned prescribed fires. These fires reduced overgrown forest underbrush and reintroduced open glades in which various species could thrive. Over time, collared lizards began to return to their previous habitats. Today, scientific data is very important to the planning process. The goal is to promote natural growth in the glades and woodlands of Buffalo National River. Prescribed fires burn slow and with less intensity than an out-of-control wildfire.

Bringing fire back into the ecosystem allows natural cycles to take place. This reduces the unnatural buildup of leaf litter and other burnable material. The risk of an unplanned and possible catastrophic wildfire goes down as well.

Our Fire Staff

Buffalo National River employs a dedicated staff of full-time, seasonal, and collateral-duty wildland firefighters. Our firefighters protect the park's natural resources from wildfires. The Buffalo River Wildland Fire Module is a fire crew that travels to national parks in Arkansas and across the country to manage fires when needed. Additionally, the module balances the park's needs with the needs of other agencies. This cooperation supports other land management agencies including,

  • US Forest Service
  • Arkansas Game and Fish Commission
  • US Fish and Wildlife Service

The hardworking men and women in the park's fire program are key to keeping our forests healthy and protected.

smokey bear
Smokey Bear


Remember Smokey Bear's ABCs: Always Be Careful with Fire

Fire has many uses. Smokey wants you to be responsible when using fire. Smokey never wants you to play with matches, leave fires unattended, or throw lighted cigarettes away. With your help, we can use fire safely at Buffalo National River. Keep the following the safety tips in mind when building a campfire:

  • Pick a site that is at least 15 feet away from tents, trees, and other flammable objects
  • Keep your fire to a manageable size
  • Make sure children and pets are supervised when near the fire
  • Never leave your campfire unattended
  • Never cut live trees or branches
  • Before leaving, extinguish your fire and make sure that it is out and cold to the touch
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2 minutes, 28 seconds

Fire managers from Buffalo National River explain how prescribed fires benefit the ecosystem.


Learn More About Wildland Fire in Arkansas

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    Last updated: April 25, 2024

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    402 N. Walnut Street
    Suite 136

    Harrison, AR 72601


    870 439-2502

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