Photo of smoke from a prescribed fire 

Fire is a natural process in many plant communities: sand hills, pine flat woods, scrub and marsh, to name a few. Without fire, these communities change; the plants and animals unique to the original habitat maintained by fire are lost. Fox squirrels, gopher tortoises, scrub jays, red-cockaded woodpeckers, wiregrass and longleaf pines are just a few of the many species that depend on fire. 

The use of prescribed fire (or controlled burning) is necessary for Florida to maintain the variety of plant communities and their associated animal life, to approximate natural conditions and to reduce the chances of damaging wildfire. Human fear of fire had led us to attempt to control it by suppressing lightning-caused fire as quickly as possible. This, as well as the development and fragmentation of our state's natural areas, has drastically reduced the role of lightning fires in maintaining the diversity of habitats so necessary for our animal life. 

Periodic prescribed fires are the only means we have to meet the needs of many plants and animals while also reducing the threat of property damage from wildfires. Many private companies, individual land owners and public agencies manage land where prescribed fires are necessary to improve and protect the natural resources and to reduce the risk of wildfire. 

Prescribed fire has many benefits in nature:

  • Restoring and maintaining natural communities
  • Reducing chances of destructive wildfires
  • Perpetuating fire-adapted plants and animals
  • Cycling nutrients
  • Controlling tree diseases
  • Opening scenic vistas
  • Protecting homes

Photo of a prescribed fireFlorida is unique in that weather and topography vastly differ from other parts of the nation. Relatively flat terrain and abundant rainfall normally afford firefighters an opportunity to control interface fires in a timely and effective manner. However, when the rain doesn't come, or a killing frost decimates the vegetation, or vegetation is allowed to accumulate, disaster is ripe.  

When these extreme fire conditions exist, large uncontrolled flame fronts in heavy fuel can and will destroy lives, property and natural resources. 

Fire managers recognize that not all forest and wildland fires are bad. Sometimes forests and wildlands really need a good fire – not a wildfire, but one that comes at the right place at the right time and is under very careful control. This scientific use of fire by prescription is a useful tool for fire managers to protect resources. The most common use of prescribed fire is to reduce wildland fuels, such as grass, weeds, pine needles and hardwood leaves. These fuels build up rapidly in Florida and increase the potential threat of wildfire. Studies and experience have shown that wildfires occur less frequently, burn less intensively and cause less damage when fuels have been reduced by prescribed burning. 

The Trade-Off...  

Photo of small flamesPrescribed fire does produce smoke and ash, and the area may look unsightly for a month or two. Local residents can expect to experience these inconveniences for only a day or two about once every two to three years. 

The protection afforded by these prescribed burned areas is invaluable when a raging wildfire threatens. Prescribed burning on a regular rotation provides an inexpensive insurance policy that local residents should not turn down. 

Fire is a natural part of Florida's biological heritage. Periodic fires protect neighboring private property from destructive wildfires, but not without some temporary inconveniences. Smoke and ash travel with the wind and can occasionally find their way to your yard. Great care is taken to minimize this temporary inconvenience. Smoke is a sign that certain lands are being cared for properly. We welcome you to contact one of the cooperators listed to make an appointment to come see the results of our fire management program. 

Prescribed Fire Facts...  

  • In 1990, the Florida Legislature passed the Prescribed Fire Act to demonstrate the importance of prescribed fire and to provide liability protection.
  • Since 1999, 26 of 27 county commissions in central Florida have passed resolutions supporting the use of prescribed fire.

Information provided by:

Central Florida Prescribed Fire Council & St. Johns River Water Management District Division of Land Management