Prescribed Fire

Prescribed Fire - fire along fence

News Releases: Information about current and recent prescribed burns 

Fire Management Specialists may prescribe fire to treat the forest in much the same way a doctor prescribes medicine to treat a person. When a doctor prescribes medicine, it is under very specific conditions that the medicine is taken. When a prescribed burn is implemented it is under some very specific parameters which are identified in a detailed burn plan. A burn plan provides guidelines for when and where to burn, under what conditions to burn, what objectives will be met, any benefits that may be gained, acceptable level of negative impacts, acceptable fire behavior, contingency plans for fire control, public concerns and smoke management. Also identified are the people who will be involved in the implementation of the burn and each person's role on the burn. Daily weather conditions play a key role in whether a burn can be accomplished or not. This is one reason why prescribed burns get cancelled and why it is sometimes hard to predict the exact day a burn will be implemented.

Why implement a prescribed burning program?

Our forests are changing. Where we once had open stands of ponderosa pine with grass growing underneath, we now have dense, overstocked stands of spindly little trees. Too many trees, not enough food and water to go around, insect and disease infestations. Our wildfires are behaving with greater fire intensity and becoming larger than they should. The more material there is to burn, the larger and more intense the wildfires will be. Fire management personnel on the Carson National Forest recognize that something must be done to clean up the vegetation that has been building up for so long. Prescribed fire is a tool that fire managers can use to reduce the amount of vegetation available for catastrophic wildfires to burn and to improve the health and vitality of the forest. The consequence of not bringing prescribed fire into the system is that we can have stand replacement fires which we will not be able to control.

Benefits of Prescribed Fire

  • 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.
  • Shrub regeneration creates nesting areas for small birds and provides food from flowers and fruit for insects and small mammals.

Additional Resources and Information

Smoke-sensitive individuals and people with respiratory or heart disease are encouraged to take precautionary measures. Information on air quality and protecting your health can be found online at the New Mexico Department of Health’s website.

Prescribed Fire - firefighter igniting fire