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Prescribed Fire

A Safe and Important Wildlife Management Tool

Naturally-occurring fires caused by lightning once played a major role in forming and maintaining much of Florida’s pine lands, sandhills, scrub areas, prairies and wetlands. Over time, many wildlife species came to depend on the nourishing vegetation that burst from fire-enriched soils.

Today, the FWC uses safely-controlled prescribed fire techniques to improve and maintain habitats for deer, quail, turkey and many other wildlife species. Some of Florida’s rare, fire-adapted plants and animals that cannot thrive without fire include the red-cockaded woodpecker, fox squirrel, gopher tortoise, indigo snake and Florida scrub-jay.

Benefits to Wildlife

Big Deer Cypress

Fire’s influence on Florida’s landscape is so vital to the survival of numerous plants and wildlife species that prescribed burning is one of the FWC’s most extensively-applied habitat management practices. Many wildlife species rely on fire for maintenance of their habitat. For many species their very existence depends on the ability of  habitat to produce enough of the right kind of food. Fires promote nutritious new growth of flowering plants and shrubs as well as seed and fruit production. Many beneficial insects are also abundant after a burn. Prescribed fire is the best tool wildlife managers have for managing habitat for wildlife.

Benefits to People

Lush after a successful burn

Prescribed fire is an effective management tool used on Florida’s Wildlife Management Areas, where you can enjoy year-round recreational opportunities. Prescribed fire...

Reduces risk of uncontrolled wildfires: Prescribed fire reduces the buildup of dangerous fuels from overgrown brush and forest litter. Prescribed fire is the best way to remove combustible debris, which helps lower the risks to people and property from fast-moving catastrophic fires, and reduces the intensity of wildfires when they do occur.

Enhances the beauty of the land: Prescribed fire recycles nutrients back into the soil and promotes the growth of trees, wildflowers and other plants. Regular prescribed fire improves aesthetic values by increasing occurrence and visibility of flowering plants and maintaining open vistas.

Improves access to the land and provides better recreational opportunities: Regular prescribed fire provides better conditions for hunting, hiking, bicycling, and wildlife viewing.

An Inside Look at Prescribed Fire

Beautiful result of prescribed burn at Apalachee WMA.

Planning for a prescribed burn starts months in advance when FWC’s wildlife biologists and land man­agers identify areas that will benefit from prescribed fire. Each area, or burn unit, has a specific detailed plan or prescription that describes the burn area, preferred weather conditions, per­sonnel and equipment needs, emergency contacts and specifics neces­sary to conduct a safe and effective burn. When the weather conditions are appropriate, FWC will obtain a burn authorization from the Florida Forest Service before initiating the prescribed burn. 

Different techniques are used depending on the location and size of the area to be burned. A small burn can be conducted using hand-held drip torches. When drip torches are lit and inverted they drop spots of fire within a burn unit. An ATV or truck-mounted torch is used in larger or less accessible units. To traverse wetter areas, torches are commonly mounted onto swamp buggies and airboats. Sometimes, due to a burn unit’s large size, aerial burning using an Aerial Ignition Device mounted on a helicopter is the best option.

FWC conducts prescribed burns at vari­ous times of year to produce the best mix of grasses and shrubs preferred by a wide range of wildlife species. Burning during the spring and summer usually results in an increase in grasses and other non-woody species. Burning during the fall and winter favors shrubby plants such as palmetto and gallberry.

How often a burn is conducted on a particular site varies by type of natural commu­nity and historical fire frequency.  Similar to burning during different seasons, varying the burn interval (time between burns) provides a great mix of food and cover for wildlife. For example, a burn interval for pine flatwoods could be every 18 months to four years and a sandhill every 18 months to three years.

Stringent training requirements, mandatory safety gear and a thorough incident review policy, keeps safety for burn crew members and the public as the highest priority on every prescribed burn FWC conducts.

When conducting a prescribed burn, FWC makes every effort to minimize impacts to the public. You might see smoke plumes travelling high into the air, where they quickly dissipate. It is normal for the area around a burn to smell smoky for a day or two.  You also may see ash during and after a burn. Although ash is annoying, it is not dangerous and is easily washed away with a hose.