Prescribed Burning — Part 1

Fire has always been part of the environment and is an important natural agent of change. It also plays a vital role in maintaining certain ecosystems. The indigenous peoples of America knew this and used fire to maintain prairies, keep the ecosystem healthy and to help them in their hunting efforts.

Prescribed burning refers to a controlled application of fire by a crew of fire experts under specified weather conditions that help restore fire dependent ecosystems. The benefits of prescribed burning are many with long lasting effects.

This fall as the weather becomes favorable prescribed burns will be ignited to safely reduce combustible fuels, such as excessive amounts of brush, shrubs, and trees. These burns encourage new growth of the native vegetation and maintain many plant and animal species habitats that are periodic fire dependent.

Prescribed burns do and will produce smoke, this is not a pleasant side effect but one that comes with the area we live in and the management of the forests that surround us. Smoke is a major limiting factor in how much burning can be done in a year, being dependent on wind, humidity, and temperature conditions.

“The largest ponderosa pine forest in the world starts in west-central New Mexico runs west across the White Mountains and up through Flagstaff to the Grand Canyon.  Which puts us in the middle of one of the largest continuous fire based forest ecosystems in the world. The evidence is right in front of us; every summer we get hundreds of lightning fires across this pine forest, and when we put them all out it only postpones burning the vegetation that piles up year after year.  We have the human caused Wallow and the Rodeo-Chedeski fires as a case in point that putting out every lightning fire just postpones the inevitable. Human caused fires are always under full suppression. So we have an understanding to come to with our forest; an understanding that there is no ‘end’ to this natural phenomenon called forest fires and our communities live with it.  Just as Florida coast folks live with sunny skies and beaches they also live with the torrential rains and hurricanes that come through, we have our forest fires.” said Assistant Fire Manager Officer for the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests, Johnny Whatley.

Smoke is a byproduct of a healthy forest and there is a limit on how much smoke or how many acres can be burned on any given day. The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality gives the final okay on the number of acres and on what days the forests can do prescribed burning. There are many different agencies all trying to burn within a short time frame making it vital that we get our prescribed burns done when we get the small window of opportunity.

To maintain healthy forests and wildlife habitats prescribed burns are a necessity.  There is going to be smoke and it is one of the nuisances that we live with because we choose to live in these beautiful mountains of Arizona.


For more information:

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests              (928) 333-6280

Apache County Emergency Management    (928) 337-7630

Bureau of Indian Affairs, Fort Apache           (928) 205-5752

Navajo County Emergency Management     (928) 524-4163

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