Fire By Design

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Once used to improve forage conditions and increase visibility, is now used to limit the number of extreme, unmanageable wildfires, and enhance the natural health of ecosystems. Prescribed, or controlled burning, is the process of imitating a natural fire under certain conditions that are strategically planned and initiated by wildland firefighters. Because ecosystems rely on periodic fires to survive, prescribed fires have an important role in our national forests. Originating from Native American cultural practices, prescribed burning has been a tool utilized for many years.


The growth of fire suppression policies in the 20th century caused a decline in controlled burning practices. In 1935 the Forest Service established a policy that required every fire to be suppressed by 10 am the following day, also known as the “10 am policy”. This policy was quickly adopted by federal land management agencies across the United States and the use of prescribed fires diminished. The enforcement of complete fire suppression plans and policies allowed growth and advancement in suppression practices and applications, but with complete suppression came the buildup of hazardous fuels causing large fires to ignite across the country.


With complete fire exclusion, forests that rely on periodic fires can become overcrowded, flammable materials build up, and the chances of extreme wildfires burning out of control and putting communities at risk increase. Research changed the way of thinking for federal land managers across the country in the 1960s, and the Forest Service began experimenting with prescribed fires. Prescribed burning recycles nutrients back into the soil, promotes the growth of vegetation, and removes flammable fuels from the ecosystem protecting the natural health of forests and wildlife habitats. Through detailed and thorough planning, prescribed burning is a valuable practice that helps keep wildlife and local communities safe. 


There are two types of controlled burning practices most commonly used, broadcast and pile burning. Broadcast burning involves the application of fires across a predetermined area, varying in size from an acre to thousands of acres. Pile burning is the act of burning vegetation piles, also known as slash piles. Throughout the year, these piles have accumulated hazardous debris from removal projects completed by The United States Forest Service. Typically, a one to two-year process, pile burning is done in the Winter when conditions are safe enough to burn. Responsible for planning, implementing, and supervising prescribed burns, Prescribed Fire Managers and Burn Bosses assist in overseeing low and high-complexity prescribed fires, as well as oversee all personnel performing controlled burns.

Wildland firefighters use a variety of hand tools, equipment, and clothing when performing a broadcast or pile burn. National Fire Fighter Corp. manufactures and supplies drip torches that meet OSHA regulations (29 CFR 1910.114) DOT regulations for the transport of flammable fuel UN #IBI-Y-150, and Forest Service Specification 5100-614. Also used as a hand-held ignition tool in prescribed burning, backfire fusee torches help ensure that all fuels are removed from the prescribed burn area.

While prescribed fires are strategically planned and only carried out under certain conditions, there are risks involved. According to the USDA, "It's important to note, though, that even with the most thorough planning and preparation, the use of prescribed fire carries an inherent level of risk that cannot be eliminated entirely. At the same time, prescribed fire is one of the most efficient and effective ways to reduce wildfire risk". As prescribed burning continues to be a resourceful tool, the United States Forest Service is constantly learning and improving its plans and policies to keep our forests healthy and communities safe.


Controlled burning has been a tool utilized for many decades and is a vital resource for fire experts and federal land management agencies. With strategic planning and proper situational control, prescribed fires can increase the health of our ecosystems and help maintain wildlife habitats. This limits the risk of wildfires, overall protecting homes and communities from the devastating effects of wildfires. 

Preparing For Wildfire Season with NFFC

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The National Fire Fighter Corporation helps provide wildland firefighters with the products they need to protect themselves, their communities, and their property from the devastating effects of fire. NFFC is a trusted source for quality, reliable firefighting gear to help effectively extinguish fires, stay protected, and minimize injury. With innovative designs, and high-quality, durable materials, NFFC wildland fire equipment and products help keep the brave men and women fighting fires safe when things get hot.

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