Prescribed fire is the controlled application of fire by a team of fire experts under specified weather conditions. This is done to restore health to ecosystems that depend on fire.

In the U.S., Florida is one of the states that performs the most prescribed burns. On an average year, the Florida Forest Service will issue approximately 88,000 authorizations — allowing landowners and agencies to conduct these burns over 2.1 million acres (about the area of Connecticut). These burns are often conducted across the Southeastern United States specifically because of the ecosystems in that area.

Prescribed fires are used to meet many land management objectives.

These fires benefit our ecosystems by reducing decayed plant material that can fuel wildfires, and by minimizing the spread of pests, insects and diseases — done by eliminating old, diseased pine seedlings or snuffing out tick populations. Prescribed fires also promote the growth of trees, wildflowers, and other plants, providing forage for wildlife and improving the habitat for threatened and endangered species. Lastly, these fires take all the nutrients from dead plant material above ground and convert them back to their elementary forms, like phosphorus and nitrogen. This effectively recycles the nutrients back into the soil.

So, which Florida ecosystems rely upon prescribed fire? Some examples include longleaf pines, turkey oak sandhills, sand pine-scrub oak complexes, pine-saw palmetto flatwoods, rockland pine forests and wet or dry prairies.

What Florida wildlife depends on these ecosystems? Some species include the indigo snake, wild turkey, the gopher tortoise, the red-cockaded woodpecker, the Florida scrub jay, and the endangered Florida panther.

Now you might be asking, who uses prescribed fire? State, federal and nonprofit agencies all work together to use prescribed fire for the restoration of Florida’s natural environment. Prescribed fire has also been used by Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years. Even today, the Seminole Tribe and conducts prescribed burns on tribal lands, and the Miccosukee Tribe conducts prescribe burns in the Florida Everglades. On an average year, the Seminole Tribe treats over 10,000 acres.

How does it all work? The first step is to plan. This includes writing the prescription, describing the proposed area, determining weather and much more. Next comes the preparations. This includes establishing the fire boundaries, securing and cleaning up nearby infrastructure, and identifying and removing any hazards in the area. During the burn, the planning and preparation come together. The “burn boss” gives out assignments, a test fire is lit, and if all goes well, sparks start to fly! After the fire begins to die out, then comes the ‘Mop up.” This consists of extinguishing flaming or smoking material and ensuring all flames are out. Lastly, a debrief and “After Action Review” are completed to assess the effectiveness of the day’s operation.

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