Fire as a Tool
Prescribed burns are essential to improving the health of Colorado's forests. Benefits from these treatments include reducing fuel buildup, preparing the land for new growth, promoting the germination of certain plants and trees, naturally thinning overly dense forests and creating wildlife habitat diversity.
Prescribed fire is the controlled application of fire to the land to accomplish goals, such as clearing fuel, assisting the spread of tree seeds, or reducing the amount of woody materials in overcrowded and unhealthy forests. These fires may be human-caused or naturally occurring events. They are conducted by trained management professionals who use special fire control techniques to ensure the safety of the burn crew, nearby residents and property.
Living, working or recreating near an active prescribed burn may be frightening to people. The smoke and smell may cause some concern for safety of life and property. But, it is important to remember that prescribed burns have been carefully planned and are executed by highly trained professionals who have taken into account your safety and the well-being of your property prior to initiating a burn.
Benefits of a Prescribed Burn
Prescribed burns are critical to improving the health of Colorado's forests. Following is a list of benefits that are gained from successfully executing a prescribed burn.
Reduces Fuel Buildup
A prescribed fire may be ignited to reduce fuel build-up that has accumulated over many years. Dead wood, overcrowded trees and thick layers of pine needles can all contribute to catastrophic wildfires.
Prepares the Land for New Growth
The majority of the nutrients in a forest are in the trees and shrubs, rather than in the soil. When excessive vegetation or needle layers are burned off, these vital nutrients are released into the soil and become available for new plants to grow. This is an effective way to improve the health of a forest.
Helps Certain Plants and Trees Germinate
Lodgepole pine and other fire-dependant species sometimes require fire to assist in germination or seed dispersal. A prescribed fire can spread the seeds of these species, allowing them to reproduce in ways that may not have been possible for many years.
Naturally Thins Overcrowded Forests
Historically, fires thinned Colorado's forests. Thinned forests recover faster and are more resistant to insect and disease attacks. Currently, most of Colorado's mature forests are overcrowded and will remain unhealthy unless and until land managers intervene with prescribed fires.
Creates Habitat Diversity Needed by Wildlife
Fire creates varied vegetation patterns, resulting in diverse habitats for plants and animals. Wildlife benefit from grazing on new plant growth; shrubs and tree seedlings produce edible leaves when resprouting after a fire.
What to Expect During and After a Prescribed Burn
Smoke: Fire management professionals make great efforts to reduce smoke impacts; however, some smoke will be unavoidable.
Smell: A campfire smell may be present for several days after the burn.
Scorching: Some scorching of lower tree branches is to be expected. After the fire, some needles will turn orange and eventually drop from the tree.
Weeds: Weeds commonly invade disturbed areas and can be expected at burn sites.
Barren Look: Immediately after a burn, the treated site may appear charred and lifeless. This temporary condition will be replaced by the resprouting of grasses, shrubs, forbs and seedling trees.