Introduction to Prescribed Burning in Southern Ecosystems

Introduction to Prescribed Burning in Southern Ecosystems
Introduction to Prescribed Fire in Southern Ecosystems
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The objective of this Introduction to Prescribed Burning is to help resource managers plan and execute prescribed burns in Southern forests and grasslands by: 

  • Explaining the reasons for prescribed burning 
  • Emphasizing the environmental effects 
  • Explaining the importance of weather in prescribed burning
  • Describing the various techniques of prescribed burning 
  • Giving general information pertaining to prescribed burning
Table of Contents

Introduction 1

History and Ecology of Fire 1

Present Use 2

Impact of Prescribed Burning 3

Reasons for Prescribed Fire in Forest and Grassland Management 5

Reduce Hazardous Fuels  5

Dispose of Logging Debris 6

Prepare Sites for Seeding or Planting  6

Improve Wildlife Habitat 6 Manage Competing Vegetation   7

Control Insects and Disease   8

Improve Forage for Grazing 8 Enhance Appearance and Access 9

Perpetuate Species and Communities that Require Fire 9

Environmental Effects 11 Vegetation  11

Soil 12

Water Quality 13

Air   13

Human Health and Welfare   14

Wildlife 15

Aesthetics  17

Weather and Fuel Considerations  19

Introduction  19

Important Weather Elements 19

Collecting and Using Weather Information on the Burn 33

Firing Techniques 35 General 35

Backing Fire 35 Strip-Heading Fire 36

Flanking Fire 37

Point Source Fires  38

Prescribed Burning on Slopes 39

Aerial Ignition 40

Center and Circular (Ring) Firing 41

Pile and Windrow Burning 41

Smoke Management  43

Introduction   43

Smoke Management Planning 43 Daytime Smoke Evaluation  44

Nighttime Smoke Evaluation  50

Other Points to Consider 52

Executing a Smoke Management Plan 53

Planning the Prescribed Burn 55 The Written Plan 55

Simple Understory Prescribed Burning Unit Plan 58

Understory Prescribed Burning Unit Plan 59

Postharvest Prescribed Burning Unit Plan 60

Preparing for the Prescribed Burn 61

Establishing Control Lines 61

After Control Lines are Established 61

Burn Unit Map 61 Executing the Burn   63

Checklist 64 Evaluating the Burn 65

General Points to be Considered 65 Points in First Evaluation 65

Points for Second Evaluation  65

Indications and Guidelines 65

Coordination of Burning 67

General Rules 69 Red Flag Situations 70

Glossary   71

Suggested Reading 76



Individuals engaged in fire protection and maintenance, public officials within the Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for and managing fire control with emphasis within the Southern U.S. ecosystem, scholars and students  engaged in instructing and learning to become a fir emanagement person would be interested in this resource.

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Agriculture Dept., Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Research and Development
  • Waldrop, Thomas A.
Key Phrases:
  • Science Update SRS 054
  • Prescribed Burning in Southern Ecosystems
  • Fires
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