Prescribed Fire on the PSICC

An Overview

In the ongoing effort to create and sustain resilient forests and grasslands, fire crews on the PSICC implement prescribed fire projects. Planned ignitions will begin when weather and fuel conditions become optimal for achieving management objectives while keeping smoke impacts to surrounding communities to a minimum. Weather and fuel conditions are closely monitored and the prescribed burning program will continue as long as conditions remain favorable.

Planned Broadcast Burn Projects

The PSICC regularly posts messages before, during and after prescribed fires. Follow us on Twitter: @PSICC_NF  or go to  Look for and use the specific hashtags for each burn.

Salida Ranger District: #NTroutCreekRX brochure

San Carlos Ranger District: #BlackMtnRX brochure

South Park Ranger District: #LKGeoRX brochure

South Platte Ranger District: #HarrisParkRX, #NoddlesRX, #SandSpringsRX brochure

Prescribed Fires on Wildlands

Fire has always played an integral role in the varied ecosystems on the PSICC. Many species of vegetation require occasional fires for health and sustainability. Over the past 100 years, humans have altered the natural vegetation management tool by suppressing wildfires because of values such as homes, great landscape views and water sources. The PSICC is using prescribed fire in many of these ecosystems as a management tool to accomplish numerous objectives.

Crews use prescribed fires, broadcast burning and pile burning, and mechanical and hand thinning treatments as effective land management tools to reduce hazardous fuels, including old and dense vegetation. Minimizing hazardous fuels reduces fire intensity and the risk of catastrophic wildland fires which minimizes the risk to firefighter and public safety. Managing fuel loads also improves wildlife habitat and provides for the long-term sustainability of healthier ecosystems and the services they provide.

Prescribed Burn Process

Public safety is always the first consideration for all fire management operations. Each prescribed burn has a detailed prescribed fire plan developed from the comprehensive planning efforts conducted long before project activities are initiated. The burn plan provides the desired objectives, when, where and under what conditions to burn, the perameters of acceptable fire behavior, and identifies roads and natural features to use as part of the containment line. It includes organization considerations, provides contingency plans for fire control, smoke management and public concerns. 

When the conditions are met, highly trained fire management personnel apply fire to the treatment areas, closely monitor the fire progress to ensure the fire stays exactly where it was intended and adjust ignition patterns as necssary to ensure the project objectives are met. Crews remain on-site long after the flames subside to ensure containment lines are secure.

Broadcast Burn and Pile Burn

Fire managers on the PSICC use two prescribed fire techniques; broadcast burning and pile burning. Broadcast burning involves widespread application of fire to ground vegetation during a time when the vegetation is readily available to burn but not dry and volatile. Spring and Fall are the most common times for this type of burning.

Pile burning is the result of both hand and mechanical thinning operations. Crews cut small trees and limbs on live trees to reduce vegetation connecting surface fuels to trees. Crews stack piles of the debris in strategic locations where fire won’t ignite trees or other vegetation. Fire managers typically burn the piles when the area has adequate snow cover which nearly eliminates the chance that ground fuels will ignite unexpectedly and makes the burn relatively easy to contain. Fall and Winter are the most common times for this type of burning.

Piles are typically ignited mid to late morning. Hand piles burn actively for about an hour, which is when people will see the most smoke. Crews will push unburned materials into the pile to improve consumption which will cause a short burst of higher activity and smoke. The piles then burn down over the next several hours. The majority of piles will be burned out by evening or overnight. Most people won't see much, if any, smoke after the first day.

Larger landing piles burn actively for several hours and take longer to burn out. Most smoke will be gone by evening, but piles may continue to smolder and may take a few days to be completely out and crews patrol the piles daily.

Smoke Effects

Smoke from prescribed fires can often be seen for miles. But the amount and duration of lingering smoke created from small scale prescribed fires is minimal compared to the numerous dense, dangerous smoke caused by massive wildfires throughout the west. The primary objective for fuels reduction projects is to reduce the possibility of the larger wildfires. Fire management specialists work diligently to adhere to smoke management regulations set forth by the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division.

Prescribed fire smoke may affect your health. For more information see:

What Visitors See After

After a burn, a visitor might see the area as simply black and barren. A closer look reveals the unburned bottoms of grass stems growing uninhibited by the dead grass layers that robbed the plants of water, nutrients and light. In areas where there are trees, visitors should begin to see varied generations of tree populations that restart the natural progression of the ecosystem replacing old, diseased and dense vegetation. Visitors who revisit the area can watch the landscape rebound from this natural change agent and witness the kind of event that shaped this land for thousands of years before humans intervened.