Attitudes and strategies toward fire management in national parks have evolved over time. The agency's first plans called for full fire suppression and exclusion. Park managers wanted to detect fires immediately and put them out just as fast. However, this strategy required more resources than the young National Park Service had. This proved a blessing in disguise, as their inability to suppress all fires had unexpected ecological benefits. Over time, the park service developed a broader understanding and approach to fire. Now a variety of tactics are used, combining fire operations, prescribed fire, and fire ecology to maintain fire as part of the natural ecosystem.
In Glacier, as in other national parks, some fires will always be suppressed (put out). These circumstances include a fire burning too near developed areas, a fire started when weather conditions could lead to major fire growth, or when fire activity is intense nationwide and limited national fire-fighting resources are available for the park to call on for assistance. Any human-caused fire will be suppressed, as will any fire that poses a serious risk of burning outside of the park.
Naturally ignited (lightning-caused fires) are closely monitored and managed within limits in order to benefit park resources to the maximum extent possible. While it is a park goal to allow fire as a natural process whenever possible, the highest priority will always be firefighter and public safety.
Learn about the effects of wildfire and smoke on communities, how fire managers take steps to minimize those effects.
Visit the Fire & Aviation Management website for an in depth look at operations across the National Park Service.
Under certain conditions and after careful planning, firefighters start and monitor fires that will benefit the ecosystem. Prescribed fire is an important fire management tool. A scientific prescription for each prescribed fire describes specific objectives, fuels, size, and the precise environmental conditions under which it will burn. If the fire moves outside the predetermined area, the fire will be suppressed. The fire may be designed to create a mosaic of diverse habitats for plants and animals, to help an endangered species recover, or to reduce fuels near developed areas to thereby prevent a destructive fire. Prescribed burning can be an effective tool to remove fuels from the path of a future unwanted fire, which in turn will help protect buildings, cultural resources, critical natural resources and habitat.
Learn more about all that goes into planning and executing a prescribed fire.