Prescribed Fires and Smoke

Introduction to Prescribed Fire

Firefighter carrying drip torchIn northeastern Arizona, we love our forests. Our forests are the setting for various recreational activities and provide the backdrop for our community. Prescribe fire helps maintain the health of our forests.  Prescribed burns are termed such because they are conducted within a “prescription” that defines the fuel moisture levels, air temperatures, wind conditions, and relative humidity levels that are appropriate for each project. 

Learn more about the history of natural fire in our forest, use of fire to maintain forest health and prevent wildfires, and prescribed burn management. 

All prescribed fire activity is dependent on personnel availability, fuel conditions, weather – including ventilation conditions, and approval from the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ).  Fire managers strive to minimize smoke impacts to the community by working closely with ADEQ, as well as neighboring forests to monitor air quality. Tactics to keep smoke impacts as minimal as possible include canceling approved burns when conditions aren’t favorable, finding alternative uses for the debris in slash piles, timing daytime ignitions to allow the majority of smoke time to disperse prior to settling overnight, and burning larger sections at a time to ultimately limit the number of days smoke is in the air. Resources for Smoke, Air Quality & Your Health

Benefits of Prescribed Burning

  • Reduces fuel build-up.
  • Dead wood, overcrowded, unhealthy trees, and thick layers of pine needles can all contribute to catastrophic wildfires including crown fires.
  • Prepares the land for new growth.
  • When excess vegetation or needle layers are burned off, nitrogen and other nutrients are released into the soil and become available for new plants to grow.
  • Helps certain plants/trees germinate.
  • Many native plant and forest communities have adapted to fire for their germination and growth. Seed contact with soil (such as that exposed by a fire) is necessary for some species to naturally regenerate.
  • Naturally thins overcrowded forests.
  • Historically, natural fire thinned the forests. Thinned forests can recover faster and are more resistant to insect and disease attacks. Currently, many of the mature forests are overcrowded, resulting in a lack of vigor and health.
  • Creates diversity needed by wildlife.  Fire provides diverse habitat for plants and animals. Grazing wildlife such as Elk and Deer benefit from new growth as shrubs produce edible leaves when re-sprouting after a fire.