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Prescribed Fire, Controlled Burning – What you Need to Know

When summer approaches, we not only begin to think about backyard bbq’s and outdoor family vacations, but also about the fire season ahead. This is the time of year we begin to examine the areas around our house and property after the long winter and look for ways to protect our home and its perimeter from wildfire. As the weather warms, we are also reminded that smoke can again fill our valleys and communities in the coming months due to unexpected wildfires as well as due to prescribed fire or controlled burns.

What are the basic components of prescribed fire or controlled burning? We know that it causes smoke in our region which can be inconvenient but what are the benefits for controlled burning and how does it work?

Prescribed burning is a planned or controlled fire used to meet forest health management objectives in a specific area usually designated by federal, state and local officials as an area needing management due to years of fire exclusion. A forest needs periodic fire to become healthy again, to clear dead trees (standing and down), limbs, leaves, needles and shrubs and other competing vegetation on the forest floor so new seedlings, shrubs and trees can grow. A forest becomes unhealthy when trees become overcrowded and fuels build up and become dangerous. When fire burns too intensely and reaches tree tops it can crown and damage well-established trees or jump from tree to tree increasing the risk of larger fires. Successful prescribed burning remains on the ground and does not burn into tree tops and improves overall forest health and means fewer extreme wildfires.

What is the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)? The Wildland Urban Interface or WUI is the zone of transition between wildland and human development. When a community is in the WUI, they are at an increased risk of catastrophic wildfire.

When fires develop in the WUI, they can damage homes, communities and basic infrastructure creating havoc and grinding these communities to a hault. Prescribed and controlled burning treatments help to prevent fires from spreading to the WUI areas by managing environmental conditions in forest lands nearby. Prescribed burning has been used for thousands of years and by many groups as a forest management tool. Indigenous people in North America used it to manage wildlands for a variety of resources including plants and game species prior to European settlement.

Fire Adapted Communities, and their networks throughout the US, are also an important part of the equation. These communities have organized citizen groups who take actions to collaboratively protect infrastructure, buildings, landscapes and surrounding ecosystems in their communities to safely accept fire as part of the surroundings. Anyone can become a part of a community or network and it is a proactive approach to learning, engaging in and managing for wildfire on your community landscape. Since wildfire is a natural occurrence, we will never eliminate fire from our landscapes so we need to learn to live with fire. Fire adaptive communities plan how to live with fire before during and after wildfire occurrences.

Prescribed burning has a positive impact on our local and regional forests and communities and ensures a safer and healthier environment for everyone in the Northwest.

Learn more about prescribed fire, WUI’s and Fire Adapted Communities and other resources at the Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition website at

Additional information on Fire Adapted Communities can also be found at

Article by Barbara Carrillo, Communications Consultant, Chumstick Wildfire Stewardship Coalition