Prescribed Fire on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests

Firefighters monitor a prescribed burn.Prescribed fire is used to provide a variety of benefits including reduced risk of catastrophic wildfire and improved forest health. Despite the numerous benefits prescribed fires provide we recognize that planned fires and smoke can affect forest visitors and local communities. Our goal is to provide you with the most current information about the status of prescribed fires during the spring and fall burning seasons. 

Since prescribed fires can be ignited only under certain weather and vegetative conditions, it is difficult to predict exactly when they will be started.  We encourage you to check the North Idaho RX Fire Information website frequently between March 1 and November 15 for the current status of planned prescribed fires on the Idaho Panhandle National Forests. Specific information, including maps and geographic descriptions, on where planned fires may occur can be found there, as well.

Additionally a prescribed fire hotline has been set up at 1-800-232-FIRE.


The Role of Prescribed Fire in Forest Management

A firefighter uses a drip torch to start ground fire in heavy downfall and slash.Did you know fire can be good for people and the land? After many years of fire exclusion, an ecosystem that needs periodic fire becomes unhealthy. Trees are stressed by overcrowding; fire-dependent species disappear; and flammable fuels build up and become hazardous. The right fire at the right place at the right time:

  • Reduces hazardous fuels, protecting human communities from extreme fires;
  • Minimizes the spread of pest insects and disease;
  • Removes unwanted species that threaten species native to an ecosystem;
  • Provides forage for game;
  • Improves habitat for threatened and endangered species;
  • Recycles nutrients back to the soil; and
  • Promotes the growth of trees, wildflowers, and other plants;

The Forest Service manages prescribed fires to benefit natural resources and reduce the risk of unwanted wildfires in the future. The agency also uses hand tools and machines to thin overgrown sites in preparation for the eventual return of fire.

Specialists write burn plans for prescribed fires. Burn plans identify – or prescribe – the best conditions under which trees and other plants will burn to get the best results safely. Burn plans consider temperature, humidity, wind, moisture of the vegetation, and conditions for the dispersal of smoke. Prescribed fire specialists compare conditions on the ground to those outlined in burn plans before deciding whether to burn on a given day.


Prescribed Fire: Maintaining the Balance

This video is from the late 1990s, but explains about how prescribed fire on the landscape can benefit the ecosystem. Then-Chief Mike Dombeck observes a prescribed fire in action on the Mark Twain National Forest and talks about the importance of prescribed fire as a management tool in maintaining and restoring ecosystems. In the video, the Chief and Forest Service specialists look closely at the benefits of prescribed fire including functioning watersheds, reduction of catastrophic fires, healthy soils and forests, productive wildlife habitat, and recreational opportunities.