What time of the year should I conduct a prescribed burn?

Prescribed fires can be conducted year-round anytime land or habitat management objectives can be safely achieved.

Historically, fires occurred throughout the year in North America, although for most locations, fire was more prevalent during specific seasons. Trying to burn during these historic fire seasons can be problematic for some locations because of safely concerns and limited days when weather conditions fall within prescription. However, burning outside of the historic fire season does not preclude the ability to meet management objectives in most cases.

For more information about season of burn or the time of year to conduct burns, see The Best Time of Year to Conduct Prescribed Burns.

Am I liable if my prescribed fire escapes?

The liability issue of an escaped prescribed fire goes back to individual state laws, and each state is different. Several states have a prescribed burning act that protects prescribed burners from liability as long as they follow the guidelines of the law. Other states have strict liability laws which state that if the fire escapes, the person setting the fire is liable no matter what precautions were taken. Consult and understand your state laws and regulations before conducting a prescribed fire. Check with your state prescribed fire council for additional guidance or to learn about enacting a prescribed burning act as described above (Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils).

How many people do I need to conduct a prescribed fire?

The number of people needed to conduct a prescribed fire varies depending upon numerous factors such as size of burn unit, complexity of burn, fuel type(s), fire crew experience, types of firebreaks, equipment availability, and weather conditions. Some prescribed fires can be conducted with as few as two people, while others may require more than 20. Too few people can be as problematic and unsafe as too many people. An experienced fire boss is often the best judge of crew size necessary to conduct a safe burn.

What equipment do I need to conduct a prescribed fire?

The following list provides an inventory of the basic equipment typically used on most prescribed fires. However, because no two burn units and therefore burn plans are identical, equipment needed for one burn may not necessarily be required for another.

  • Drip torch and fuel
  • Slip-on pump unit, ATV sprayer, and/or back-pack sprayer
  • Fire rake
  • Fire shovel
  • Flapper
  • Chain saw
  • 2-way radio
  • Mobile phone
  • Fire weather kit

See What Clothes Should I Wear to Conduct a Prescribed Fire for more information about personal safety.

See Using Prescribed Fire in Oklahoma for a detailed list of prescribed fire equipment (page 23).

What is a prescribed fire?

A prescribed fire is the application of fire to the land under specified conditions with the fire confined to a predetermined area (the burn unit) to accomplish predefined land management goals and objectives. Prescribed fire typically involves prior planning (usually a written plan), firebreak identification and or preparation, civil authority and neighbor notification, specific equipment, adequate labor with specific responsibilities, specific weather conditions, smoke management considerations, specific ignition procedures, contingency plans, and post-burn mop-up and monitoring. 

Is a controlled burn the same as a prescribed fire?

Generally speaking, the two phrases have the same meaning. However, technically speaking, prescribed fire is the application of fire in a burn unit to wildland fuels under specified environmental conditions to accomplish specific land management goals and objectives. Whereas, controlled burn is a more generic term with different meanings to different people.

The term controlled burn predates the term prescribed fire. As the science, application, and profession of burning developed and expanded, the term prescribed fire was introduced to better reflect the process involved in planning and conducting a burn.

How do I manage smoke from a prescribed fire?

There are many methods and options that can be utilized to manage smoke from a prescribed fire.

To minimize smoke problems:

  • burn smaller units;
  • burn when weather conditions are likely to produce the best dispersion;
  • burn when fuel conditions are likely to produce the least amount of smoke;
  • utilize suitable ignition techniques for smoke management;
  • conduct post-burn mop-up to reduce nuisance smoke;
  • reduce the amount of fuels to reduce smoke emissions; and
  • reduce the impact of smoke on people.

The National Weather Service fire weather forecasts are a good source of information for smoke dispersion conditions.

For more information see Smoke Management for Prescribed Burns.

Who do I need to contact before I conduct a prescribed fire?

It is a recommended practice, regardless of legal requirements, to notify adjacent landowners as well as the local fire department before conducting a prescribed fire. Contact requirements necessary to conduct a prescribed fire vary among states. Check state and local regulations before conducting a prescribed burn. If applicable, check with your state prescribed fire council for additional guidance (Coalition of Prescribed Fire Councils).