Historically, fires ignited by lightning swept unimpeded across Florida. Each spring and summer in the state, this scene repeated itself in a natural process needed by the plants and animals of the pinewoods, which were accustomed to those frequent fires and which depended on fire for their very survival. 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, wire grass and longleaf pines are just a few of the many species which depend on fire.
Today, because of highways, homes and businesses, and public safety, such wildfires can no longer be allowed to burn freely.
Periodic “prescribed fires” (also known as controlled burns) are the only means land managers have to meet the needs of many plants and animals while also reducing the threat of property damage from wildfires. Prescribed fire is the use of carefully planned fire purposefully set under stringent conditions to control the fire’s effects.
The St. Johns River Water Management District uses prescribed fire to reduce the possibility of dangerous wildfire while enhancing land’s environmental quality. Prescribed fire’s benefits include restoring and maintaining natural communities, reducing chances of destructive wildfires, perpetuating fire-adapted plants and animals, cycling nutrients, controlling tree diseases and opening scenic vistas.
Periodic prescribed 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 residential areas. Great care is taken to minimize this temporary inconvenience.
Many private companies, individual landowners and public agencies manage land where prescribed fires are necessary to improve and protect the natural resources and to reduce the risk of wildfire.
Other facts about prescribed fire
- In 1990, the Florida Legislature passed the Prescribed Fire Act to promote the importance of prescribed fire and to provide liability protection.
- In 1997, Florida’s governor and Cabinet designated Prescribed Fire Awareness Week, which now occurs annually in the last week of January.
- County commissions in all 67 Florida counties have passed resolutions supporting the use of prescribed fire.
Prescribed Fire Council mission
Prescribed fires are used by such a variety of people that prescribed fire councils have been established to promote education and understanding of the issue. The mission of Florida’s prescribed fire councils is to protect the right, to encourage the use of, and to promote public understanding of prescribed fire. The councils encourage the exchange of information, techniques and experiences among practitioners of prescribed fire. The district is a member of the region’s prescribed fire councils.
- Florida Department of Environmental Protection
- Florida Forest Service
- Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
- Florida’s water management districts
- Forest industry
- Private landowners
- Florida counties at large
- The Nature Conservancy
- University of Florida Cooperative Extension Service
- U.S.D.A. Natural Resources Conservation Service
- U.S. Department of Defense
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- U.S. Forest Service
- Archbold Biological Station
- Florida cattlemen
- Private consultants
- County and local fire/rescue services
- Florida Fire Chiefs Association
- Tall Timbers Research Station
- Capital Area Chapter American Red Cross