Prescription: Fire

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Published on: Jun. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

for the past 10 to 15 years to manage their prairie grasses with prescribed fire. Many other landowners and some non-landowners have been burning off land without benefit of a plan. Sometimes they get the desired results, but sometimes their fires burn too fiercely or get onto adjoining lands and cause more damage than good.

Prescribed fire takes time, thought and a commitment to see that you burn only what you want and when you want it. The two cardinal rules of prescribed burning are:

If you aren't going to achieve what you want, don't burn it, and À If you can't contain it, don't light it.

The Conservation Department continues to work with landowners to train them on the safe and effective use of prescribed fire. Our forest districts have current weather information and are able to warn you if burning conditions are expected to make your prescribed fire hard to contain. Take advantage of both the training and weather availability if you are thinking of doing any prescribed burning.

The next time you see a fire on the landscape and see a bunch of us with our flame retardant yellow shirts and fire fighting gear, remember - we may be fighting a wildfire or we may be doing a prescribed burn. The staff and the equipment will be the same, but the results are totally different.

Wear and tear on the workers are also different. In a wildfire situation, heat and smoke are intense and decisions must be made instantly. In a prescribed fire situation, prior planning and preparation makes it unnecessary for firefighters to endure the heat and smoke. A saying among the prescribed burners is, "Plan before you light it, so you won't have to fight it".

Using Prescribed Fire

If you have decided that prescribed fire is a good management tool for your land, and you are willing to take the care and time needed to do it right, you have one more question to answer. "Am I going to use prescribed fire periodically, and continue to do it right?"

Prescribed burning, just as grazing, haying or chemical application, is a management practice that must be repeated for maximum effectiveness. Forage production will only benefit for a few years following a burn.

Plant diversity and vigor will only be stimulated for a few years with one burn. Plant diversity will probably continue to change over time in a managed natural community, but only if

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