Prescribed Fire in the South


What is prescribed fire?

Prescribed fire is a safe way to restore a natural process, ensure ecosystem health and resiliency, and reduce wildfire risk.

Prescribed fire refers to the controlled application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions that help restore health and resiliency to fire-dependent ecosystems and landscapes.

Prescribed fire reintroduces and restores the natural process and the beneficial effects of periodic fire into an ecosystem by yielding the kinds of vegetation and resilient landscapes we want, and reducing the hazard of catastrophic wildfire caused by excessive fuel buildup.

That’s why we call them #GoodFires!


Fire plays a vital role maintaining southern ecosystems

Although there have been regional variations across the United States, fire has been used as a management tool throughout history.

Forest management practices such as thinning and prescribed burning create healthier, more productive forests. Overcrowded trees often struggle to survive, weakening them against insects or disease. Thinning competing vegetation allows remaining trees to grow faster and be more resistant to pests.

In the South, prescribed fire has been used to maintain oak and pine savannas, clear brush, create wildlife habitat, clear land for agriculture, control pests and improve livestock grazing.



Conducting a prescribed burn

Prescribed fire is a complex management tool and should be used only with the utmost care under controlled conditions.

Prescribed fire is a carefully planned and controlled operation. It has specific objectives, specific parameters and a meticulously carried-out plan conducted and monitored by trained personnel. Prescribed fire adheres to a strict burn plan that includes:

  • a statement of the burn’s objectives—what results are intended by burning
  • requirements for weather conditions before and during the burn
  • considerations for smoke dispersal
  • contingency plans in case the fire escapes
  • safety requirements

Notifying neighbors, fire departments and local law enforcement officials should always be part of a prescribed burn plan. A copy of the burn plan should also be shared with the local fire department or other designated authorities.

Local Assistance

Benefits of Prescribed Fire

Hazardous Fuels Reduction

Prescribed fire is one of many fuel reduction treatments used to remove or reduce dense vegetation that is fuel for wildfires.

Community Safety

The wildland urban interface is an area where we build homes and communities adjacent to wildland or agricultural vegetation and it is within this area that wildfire poses the greatest risk.

Firefighter Safety

Prescribed fire can make wildfires less severe and safer to respond to.

Forest Health

There are many factors related to prescribed fires that have an impact on all aspects of forest health.

Replenished Landscapes

Fire is important for grazing. It replenishes rangelands, improves grazing vegetation and reduces the need to fertilize.

Economic Gain

Forest management practices can provide multiple opportunities for economic gain.

Recreation & Beauty

Prescribed fire improves aesthetic value and access to nature.


Managing smoke from prescribed fires

There are ways to monitor and lessen the impact of smoke from prescribed burns.

Smoke from prescribed burning is one of the greatest single factors causing public concern. The amount of smoke emitted and its dispersal are affected by how and when the burn is conducted.

Most southern states have either voluntary or mandatory smoke management guidelines for planning a prescribed burn. Many states also conduct smoke management workshops for prescribed burners. When planning a prescribed fire, burn managers will:

    • Plot the anticipated direction of the smoke plume

    • Identify and consider standard and critical smoke-sensitive areas

    • Determine the impact the fuel type may have on smoke production

    • Take steps to minimize risk

Learn More

Prescribed Fire and…

Community Health

Water Quality

Public Perception


Additional Resources

Guidebook for Prescribed Burning in the Southern Region 

Smokey Bear – Prescribed Fires

Bugwood Network – Guide to Prescribed Fires

National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center

Southern Fire Exchange