WHAT ARE PRESCRIBED FIRES AND HOW ARE THEY HELPFUL?
Year-round wildfires are normal in California. New fires start every day across the state, and some of these fires can grow into destructive fires, spreading quickly over landscape, often threatening communities and destroying property. CAL FIRE uses numerous methods to help reduce the likelihood of severe damage caused by large, devastating wildfires on our lands and in our communities. One of these methods is prescribed fire.
State law defines prescribed fire as a planned application and confinement of fire on lands selected in advance to achieve any of the following objectives:
- Prevention of high-intensity wild land fires through reduction of the volume and continuity of wild land
- Watershed management
- Range improvement
- Vegetation management
- Forest improvement
- Wildlife habitat improvement
- Air quality maintenance
While wildfires are destructive, prescribed fires are carefully planned and executed by CAL FIRE during appropriate fuel conditions and weather conditions to help to one or more of the objectives listed above.
Fires have been a natural part of the California landscape for a very long time, it is an agent of change necessary to keep our forests healthy and resilient. Native Americans in California used fire as a tool to drive game for hunting, to encourage the growth of plants used for food or tools, and rarely thought of fire as something that needed to be excluded.
Prescribed fires help protect our communities for future generations to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.
Prescribed Fires FAQ
Are there other words used to describe prescribed fires?
- Yes! Prescribed fires are also sometimes referred to as Rx fires, prescribed burns, controlled burns, hazard reduction burns, vegetation management burns, or planned burns.
Does the CAL FIRE team implement these prescribed fires alone?
- No. Improving the health of the land and reducing risks to communities requires partnerships among federal and state agencies, tribal governments, fire departments, communities, and landowners. CAL FIRE takes these fires and responsibilities very seriously when planning and implementing prescribed fires.
What happens if we don’t have prescribed fires?
- There is risk assumed when excluding fire from fire-adapted ecosystems. There is risk, as well, when using fire to obtain ecological and other management objectives. Close evaluation of daily and seasonal weather and fuel conditions, public health, and social and economic considerations—and other important factors—influencing fire behavior and fire effects are integral in determining appropriate place, time, and circumstances to use fire to accrue beneficial fire effects.
Will I be notified before a prescribed fire occurs in my community?
- The fire management team considers smoke management in every step of the program, and often utilizes social media to help alert community members. Generally, there is also a news release to inform the local media who will place the alerts during the news hours or other publications.Road signs are also placed nearby to let drivers know about these prescribed fires.
Where can I go to learn more about prescribed fires?
- Check out these resources:
- Northern California Prescribed Fire Council
- CAL FIRE Vegetation Management Program
- US Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit Prescribed Fire Activity
- US Forest Service Sierra National Forest Prescribed Fire Information
- Sierra Forest Legacy – Fire MOU Partnership
- Learn more from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy about how prescribed fire and mechanical thinning can keep our forests healthier and more resilient.
I still have questions. Who can I contact for more information?
- To get more information about Prescribed Fires contact your local CAL FIRE Unit. .