Prescribed Fire

Historic photo of firefighter igniting prescribed fire
Firefighter igniting prescribed fire

History of Prescribed Fire

In the 1950s, Dr. Bill Robertson recognized the role fire played in the pine rockland ecosystem and was concerned with changes within the pinelands as a result of fire exclusion. In 1958, with findings to back Dr. Robertson's research, the first prescribed fire in National Park service history was ignited in Everglades National Park in an effort to begin the process of maintaining this unique ecosystem.

Since 1958, Everglades National Park has been using prescribed fire to reintroduce and maintain fire as part of an ecosystem that has been altered by man. Prescribed fires are used in many of our ecosystems, including wetland prairies, sawgrass marshes, and the pine rocklands.

Today, Everglades National Park has one of the largest prescribed burn programs in the National Park Service, burning just over 100,000 acres a year.

What is a prescribed fire?

Prescribed fire is a planned fire; it is also sometimes called a "controlled burn" or "prescribed burn," and is used to meet management objectives. It is one of the most important tools used to manage fire today.

Prescribed fires are planned for months, and sometimes years in advance of their implementation. Fire managers must meet certain parameters to ensure that conditions such as temperature, wind direction and speed, relative humidity, soil moistures, and smoke management are favorable for fire behavior, meeting burn objectives and personnel safety.

Why do we use it?


 
Firefighters conduct prescribed burn around park headquarters.
Firefighers conduct prescribed burn around park headquarters

NPS Photo Michael Gue

  • Prescribed fire can help reduce the threat of wildfires.
    • Massive fuel loading combined with longer, hotter, drier fire seasons and urban sprawl have created conditions that will result in catastrophic wildfires, if action is not taken.
    • Reducing the fire susceptible vegetation (fuel) will decrease the likelihood of wildfires threatening park infrastructure and nearby communities.
    • Prescribed fire can mimic natural wildfire occurrence intervals. With prescribed fire occurring on a regular basis, any wildfire that starts in or near a pre-treated area is less likely to grow in size and intensity.
 
Prescribed fire burning in the pinelands
Prescribed fire burning in the pine rocklands

NPS Photo Ian Wilson

  • Prescribed fire is essential in restoring and maintaining the fire adapted ecosystem of the Everglades.
    • Fire in the pine rocklands triggers the pines to regenerate and opens up the habitat to allow light to reach the rockland floor, enabling grasses and smaller plants to grow.
    • Fire in the prairies reduces fuel, improving freshwater flow. It also inhibits the growth of woody species and encourages growth of sawgrass and muhley grasses, aiding in the restoration of the wetlands.
    • Prescribed fire can be utilized as a tool for controlling the spread of invasive plants.
  • Prescribed fire is safer, more efficient, and more cost effective than wildfires.
    • Prescribed fire limits the risk to firefighters by allowing for fire managers to control the circumstances under which firefighters work. This includes picking weather conditions that will limit fire and smoke exposure, as well as providing sufficient resources for the task, and choosing the best available method of operation.
    • The cost of suppressing a wildfire is approximately $500/acre, while the cost of treating an area with prescribed fire is only $5/acre.

 
Wildland Firefighter on Prescribed Burn
Wildland Firefighter on Prescribed Burn

NPS Photo Michael Gue

"River of Fire" Video


Funded by Everglades Fire Management, The "River of Fire" video depicts a large-scale prescribed burn conducted for hazardous fuel reduction and exotic vegetation management. Our NPS Video producer Jen Brown's beautiful cinematography and highly skilled editing has created a visually compelling example of how prescribed burns are conducted in the Everglades.

 

Last updated: April 2, 2020

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