Fires play a vital role in keeping certain types of forests, grasslands, and other landscapes healthy. Most forest ecosystems evolved to tolerate semi-regular fires of lower intensity and flourish in their aftermath; however, societal norms, which often viewed all fire as bad, led a push during much of the 20th century to prevent fire at all costs. But without fires, forest health and diversity has suffered. In an effort to reverse this trend, land managers have emphasized the increased use of prescribed fire, for the multiple benefits “good fire” brings to the forest.
In recent years, land managers have embraced prescribed fire – setting intentional, controlled fires in a specific area with a specific goal – as a necessary and useful tool to prevent dangerous wildfires and manage certain landscapes for long-term ecological health.
Benefits of Prescribed Fire
By removing dead and overgrown vegetation, prescribed fires help prevent large, intense wildfires that claim lives, destroy communities, and cost billions of dollars in damage and firefighting costs. Prescribed fires also offer other significant benefits for landscapes, humans, and wildlife:
- Removing thick underbrush in forests allows the seedlings of fire-tolerant plant communities to grow; some trees even require the heat from fire to release seeds from their cones.
- As plant communities regrow after a fire, they provide fruit, nuts, grasses, and other food that attracts a wide variety of wildlife. On lands managed for outdoor recreation, more wildlife draws more hunters, bird watchers, and hikers who spend money in nearby communities.
- Thinner, less dense forests are more accessible, which also increases these outdoor recreation activities that boost local economies.
- Prescribed fires can be used to remove specific features from a landscape that would take significant time and labor to remove by hand, such as logging debris or invasive species.
A variety of publications explore deeper into fire ecology – the effects of fire in ecosystems:
|Fire Effects Guide||NFES 2394||View|
|References on the American Indian Use of Fire in Ecosystems||View|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Air||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 5||View|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Fauna||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 1||View|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Flora||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 2||View|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Soil and Water||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 4||View|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Fire and Non-Native Invasive Plants||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 6||View|
The USDA Forest Service hosts a website – Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) – containing detailed information about fire ecology and fire regimes throughout the country.
The Virginia Prescribed Fire Council is a unique group in Virginia focused on promoting the use of prescribed fire for ecological benefits. Its membership includes representation from nearly every entity in the Commonwealth with an interest in increasing the use of controlled fire for managing Virginia resources.
Safe Prescribed Burning
Safe and beneficial prescribed burning requires the right conditions, training, planning, and equipment, and is best left to the professionals. If you’re interested in prescribed burning, contact your local VDOF office or forestry professional.
- Prescribed burn professionals are encouraged to complete training and certification to become a Certified Prescribed Burn Manager.
- Additional tools for prescribed burn managers are available.
|A Guide for Prescribed Fire in Southern Forests||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|A Guide to Mid-Atlantic Regional Air Quality||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Application for Exemption to the 4PM Burning Law||4.07||Form||View||fire-and-emergency-response||form|
|Beyond the Bonfire: A Primer on Prescribed Fire for Virginia’s Landowners|
Booklet educates landowners about prescribed fire. What are the laws regarding prescribed burning? How is a burn conducted? What tools are necessary to safely conduct a burn?
|Commonwealth of Virginia State Air Pollution Control Board 9VAC5 Chapter 130 Regulation for Open Burning|
Provides emission standards for open burning in Virginia.
|Developing Wildlife-Friendly Pine Plantations||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Fire Effects Guide||NFES 2394||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Prescribed Burn Management Plan||4.09||Form||View||fire-and-emergency-response||form|
|Prescribed Burning Services Agreement||4.10||Form||View||fire-and-emergency-response||form|
|References on the American Indian Use of Fire in Ecosystems||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Virginia Smoke Management Guidelines||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Wildfire Smoke – A Guide for Public Health Officials and Factsheets||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Air||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 5||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Fauna||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 1||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Flora||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 2||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Effects of Fire on Soil and Water||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 4||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|
|Wildland Fire in Ecosystems – Fire and Non-Native Invasive Plants||RMRS-GTR-42- Vol. 6||Publication||View||fire-and-emergency-response||publication|