Edit: Thank you to everyone that joined us today, and for all your great questions about wildland fire! If this has ignited your curiosity, and you have more burning questions, visit: Southern Fire Exchange (https://southernfireexchange.org) or any of the Joint Fire Science Program supported nationwide Fire Science Exchange Networks (https://www.firescience.gov/JFSP_exchanges.cfm).

Also, a huge shout out and thank you to everyone behind the scenes that made it possible to answer so many of your insightful questions, including the Southern Fire Exchange and University of Florida IFAS Communications Teams.

I am Dr. Rae Crandall- a forestry professor at the University of Florida who studies the effects of wildland fire on plants. Some people call me a pyromaniac, because I love to light prescribed fires as much as I love to study plants. As an undergraduate student, I volunteered on a prescribed fire, “caught the fire bug”, and have been passionate about teaching others about the benefits of prescribed fire ever since. I have worked as a wildland firefighter in the West, and as a fire lighter across many states of the U.S.

Ask me anything about wildland fire!

You can learn more about my research here.

This AMA is part of an outreach series with Southern Fire Exchange (SFE). SFE works across the Southeast to connect land managers with fire scientists to get new information and tools into fire management practices. Working with our network of partners, we develop programs, opportunities, and events that bridge the divide between the fire science and natural resource management communities. We’re a collaborative among the University of Florida, Tall Timbers Research Station, NC State University, and the US Forest Service Southern Research Station. We’re sponsored by the federally funded Joint Fire Science Program and we’re the Southeastern branch of the nationwide Fire Science Exchange Network.


Comments: 172 • Responses: 35  • Date: 

SoonToBeEngineer86 karma

It looks like your research focuses on the effects of fire on the environment, but can you speak on the long term effects of smoke inhalation on wildland firefighters?

I am currently a federal wildland firefighter and getting a straight answer from the government on this is not easy

ecology_on_fire63 karma

There is no question that the inhalation of carbon monoxide and particulate matter has negative effects on the health of those that inhale it on a regular basis. There is absolutely more research needed on how that specifically impacts wildland firefighters, and some of that is ongoing.

There are also groups like Grassroots Wildland Firefighters that are working to improve available resources, including health insurance, for our brave and hardworking wildland firefighters. Wildland firefighters do an important and difficult job, but many are seasonal employees who do not receive support like year round health insurance. There have been quite a few articles like this one addressing the need for change, and the Biden-Harris Administration has taken some action to increase pay for federal wildland firefighters.

Here are some more resources that may be helpful:
Wildland Fire Smoke Health Effects on Wildland Firefighters and the Public - https://www.fs.usda.gov/pnw/projects/wildland-fire-smoke-health-effects-wildland-firefighters-and-public
Wildland Fire Effects on Public Health: What does the Research Say?

knucks_deep47 karma

Two questions:

  • As a former wildland firefighter myself, how can we get the media to accurately report anything around wildland fires? It’s a joke the amount of misused terminology, faulty understanding of tactics and methods, and blatant misinformation that is spread by every media member.

  • Stand replacement fires have been very common in the west for millennia. Some tree species depend on it. I see the major issue now not that a lot of land is burning, but that the ongoing drought will inhibit tree regeneration, turning the west into scrub and brushland. Do you see anyway this doesn’t happen?

ecology_on_fire27 karma

Re: State replacement fires

Tree regeneration is currently getting a lot of research attention in ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests in parts of the West. There are many examples of where these forests, which historically burned frequently, are now burning in uncharacteristically large patches with high-severity (think along the Colorado Front Range). Research has shown that post-fire tree regeneration is limited by burn severity, size, and post-burn weather patterns (think precipitation). Reintroducing prescribed fire and other active forest management practices may play an important role in helping to reduce the future occurrence of large, high-severity fires in low to mid-elevation forests - ultimately helping to keep forests as forests.

knucks_deep14 karma

Let me be direct, because this didn’t directly answer my question:

Forest types with fire return intervals that are on the 75-150 year range (lodgepole, subalpine, grand fir, etc) and burn hot, is there any hope for regeneration, or is it destined for high altitude scrubland? Has climate change progressed too far? Prescribed fire is not recommended is locations like these.


ecology_on_fire17 karma

The answer to this question is a complicated one and could certainly be asked more generally about many ecosystems. We will see a state change following stand replacing fires given known changes in climate. We are seeing some systems shift if seed sources are not available for natural regeneration or because climate conditions (think temperature or drought) are no longer appropriate for regeneration of the species in question. At lower elevations, it is more likely that climate change has progressed too far, but at our current rate of change, it might be a matter of time before we see a complete shift in some communities.

ecology_on_fire12 karma

Re: Media coverage

With the increase in media coverage on wildland fire, prescribed fire, and wildfires, many news outlets have actually improved their coverage of the nuances and complexities of wildland fire. Of course not every story is correct, and there is certainly some pressure on journalists to publish things that are sensationalized. But more national media stories are doing a better job of conveying the important relationships that exist among fuels, weather, land management history, population growth, and climate change. It’s also very challenging to talk about these issues at a national or even regional level where local situations can vary quite a bit.

It’s also important for natural resource professionals to build connections with science communicators and media outlets when that is possible. Even if it’s just your local news outlet, building those relationships increases the likelihood of informed coverage.

Some more resources that may be helpful include:

Outside Online wildfire coverage, they have had some really good stories: https://www.outsideonline.com/tag/wildfire/

Webinar: The Science and Practice of Delivering Fire Science: https://www.nrfirescience.org/resource/22669

Sunburn7922 karma

What Gainesville band is the best?

  1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers (RIP)
  2. Less Than Jake

ecology_on_fire30 karma

Our team is split on this one, so we plead the 5th with love for both.

verbimat16 karma

Here in Colorado, fuel loads regenerate after around 40 years post fire. This is compared to a 2-4 year regeneration cycle in California.

How long does it take for Florida forests regrow after, say, a prescribed burn? What was the historic burn regime out there? How does that inform contemporary management practices?

ecology_on_fire14 karma

Florida ecosystems respond very quickly! This video shows a southeastern forest regrowing following a prescribed fire: https://youtu.be/cunwyemrZek. Burn regimes in Florida vary across ecosystem types! Some burned every two years (or less) (think longleaf pine forests) and some may have burned much less frequently, with decades potentially between fires in cypress swamps or sand pine scrub. Many contemporary prescribed fire programs seek to manage fire based on historical fire regimes (frequency and season), because research suggests that many plants and animals depend on those fire regimes to maintain their habitat requirements. In terms of reducing wildfire risk, Florida and many southeastern ecosystems (especially in places where saw palmetto dominate the understory) require much more frequent prescribed fire to reduce the accumulation of understory vegetation / hazardous fuels.

LaMB41114 karma

As a fellow wildfire researcher (UMD alum). I applaud you holding this AMA. I have been actively trying to create an impact in this space outside of researching. As someone who has seen both the field and acdemic side of things, do you have any recommendations?

ecology_on_fire10 karma

Thank you for your kind words! I would suggest that you connect with your local Fire Science Exchange Network! The Fire Science Exchange Network is federally funded by the Joint Fire Science Program to bridge the gap between fire science and management in the U.S. Connecting with the Southern Fire Exchange has increased my capacity to connect my research with the fire and natural resource management community as well as the public. Also, try reaching out to your Cooperative Extension and local Prescribed Fire Council as these groups can help connect your research with folks in the field. (And shout-out from one of our SFE team who is also a former Terp!)

GrumpTree339 karma

What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen while on a fire?

ecology_on_fire22 karma

The coolest thing I have seen on a fire is the wonder and excitement on a student’s face when they light their first prescribed fire. The best part of my job at the University of Florida is teaching students how to light safe and ecologically sound fires.

Working in natural areas outside lets me see a lot of beautiful places and cool wildlife too. I have seen many animals moving away from fires, including snakes, rabbits and wood rats. Someone on our team once saw a Florida panther on their way to a huge burn at Fakahatchee Strand Preserve. It was the largest burn in the state at the time, over 9,000 acres! Animals know what to do when a fire is in an area- they just move out of the way, even if the fire is large. This panther was simply leaving for a while, and likely returned later to feast on the small mammals that were enjoying the plant regrowth.

who5198 karma

Have you seen any lasting affects of fire retardant used on landscapes in soil or water quality?

ecology_on_fire19 karma

Research has not detected the constituents of fire retardant, including ammonia, phosphorus, and cyanide, in streams. Aquatic systems are only likely to be harmed if fire retardant is directly applied to a stream. Where fire retardant has been applied to plants, there has been a slight, but measurable increase in vegetation and no effect on insect activity.

Choui44 karma

How is fire retardant not subject to runoff or leaching like every other chemical applied?

ecology_on_fire10 karma

In the words of this Tufts piece, “The really worrisome aspect is that we don’t truly know. These fire retardants haven’t been fully studied over long periods of time at the increased amounts we’re currently using.”

There have been few studies that systematically study the effects of fire retardant on plants and animals. I gave you information from a couple of articles, but there are other articles and reports that say the opposite. Here is an interesting document that actually shows some fish move away from the toxic chemicals found in fire retardant: https://www.cerc.usgs.gov/pubs/center/pdfdocs/eco-03.pdf

Sometimes we have to weigh the pros and cons of using some of the tools we have to fight wildfires. Although fire retardant is an important tool for stopping wildfires, the mixed results and lack of research on this chemical seem to indicate it is something that should be at minimum researched more thoroughly to inform that decision.

combatveteran5 karma

How much do you love Fire Chaser Beetles?

ecology_on_fire16 karma

I love them so much! Melanophila beetles, which is what I believe you are referring to, are attracted to the heat and smoke from fire (adults have infrared detectors in sensory pits on their heads). There was a report that these beetles were attracted to University of California football games in the 1940s, where the 20,000 or so lit cigarettes would attract these beetles in hoards. This would not have been a big deal, but apparently, they bite!

otheraccountisabmw4 karma

How does someone get into volunteering to work on prescribed fires? What kind of training is involved?

ecology_on_fire3 karma

Reach out to the folks who manage your local parks, forests, and natural areas. If they use prescribed fire, ask if they accept volunteers. If they don’t use prescribed fire, ask why not! Many prescribed fire practitioners start by taking basic wildland fire courses from the National Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (NWCG) called S-130 / S-190. These courses teach the very basics of fire behavior, weather, fuels, and fire management / suppression. You may need to get these courses completed before being accepted as a volunteer. In some areas, groups of private landowners work together to burn as co-ops. These co-op “prescribed burn associations” might also provide a good opportunity to gain experience burning. This map is a great place to learn about and find PBAs in the U.S.: https://kstate.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=3eacaaf1a3514d3da2e5215b5dd55f9b

antiheaderalist3 karma

What are your thoughts on fuel load management by goats and other ruminants?

I personally find it promising (particularly in the WUI and small/medium private lots), though I do worry that it risks tilting biodiversity away from fire-adapted species in fire-prone areas.

Edit: also, could you guys put together a curriculum on basic wildland fire science for middle school/high school? It's a really interesting combination of geography and physics that I think kids would really enjoy.

I used to be a teacher and always wished I could spend a day showing the kids physical models to display everything at work

ecology_on_fire9 karma

RE: Goats

Goats and other ruminants should be researched more as an option for fuels management in areas where prescribed burning is not possible. Although it is widely thought that goats will eat anything, they prefer woody vegetation, like twigs, and leave behind a lot of herbaceous vegetation. They can be easily moved around to control their vegetation removal rate. This method of vegetation control would be particularly useful in smoke sensitive areas.

This webinar by the Oak Woodlands and Forests Fire Consortium discusses this topic: Smoke, Goats, and Oaks: The effects of targeted goat browsing and prescribed fire on fuel loading in Ozark Hardwood Ecosystems

ecology_on_fire9 karma

Re: Wildland fire education resources

We are actually working on this now with folks from around the Southeast! We are adapting the FireWorks curriculum, which was originally created by the U.S. Forest Service, to create a version that focuses on Southeastern ecosystems. And even though the current versions don’t focus on the Southeast, a lot of the basic physics of fire lessons are still really useful.

There are also a lot of other resources for teachers and other educators to use out there. This page on the Southeast Prescribed Fire Update has a great list. I highly recommend looking into resources from the Longleaf Alliance - they created a character called Burner Bob. He is a bobwhite quail and sort of like Smokey Bear, but instead of teaching kids to prevent wildfires, he teaches them about the importance of prescribed fire!

ikeosaurus3 karma

Are there any current projects in your neck of the woods studying indigenous fire use to manage plant and animal resources? I am an anthropologist and paleoecologist and I study the effects of fire on ethnobotanically important underground storage organ (root and tuber) plants like onions and wild carrot here in the west. It’s a great tool for educating the public about the benefits of fire, and engaging indigenous communities and their histories in ecological restoration/management.

ecology_on_fire5 karma

Historical and widespread Native American use of fire in the Southeastern U.S. is widely accepted. I’m aware of some recent collaboration between researchers at Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, FL and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. Here’s a newsletter article discussing a visit they had a couple of years ago: https://talltimbers.org/seminole-nation-of-oklahoma-at-tall-timbers/.

There has been a lot of media coverage over the past few years on the importance of Indigenous burning (https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/fire-is-medicine-how-indigenous-practices-could-help-curb-wildfires), and including Indigenous Peoples in the fire community. This is an area where the fire community, including those in the Southeastern U.S., needs to do better. Many of us are trying to do just that. Native Americans were the original fire stewards in the Southeast (http://www.humanecologyreview.org/pastissues/her142/fowlerandkonopik.pdf), and it is only because of their knowledge that European colonizers began using fire when they arrived.

Some research publications that may be of interest:

“Native Americans as active and passive promoters of mast and fruit trees in the eastern USA”


“Native American Ethnobotany of Cane (Arundinaria spp.) in the Southeastern United States: A Review”


“Fire in floodplain forests in the southeastern USA: Insights from disturbance ecology of native bamboo”


Pegging4Covid2 karma

What can we do to prevent California's annual burning ritual?

ecology_on_fire8 karma

The historical suppression of wildfires, combined with human development, invasive species, climate change, and increased human ignition sources (accidents, vehicles, powerlines, arson) have led to the wildfire situation in California. Agencies and grassroots organizations are increasingly working to get more prescribed fire on the ground in California to address the fire debt and reduce the wildfire risk in the northern part of the state. High intensity wildfires can be prevented by fuel mitigation whether by prescribed fire or mechanical thinning of vegetation.

In terms of policy/forest management vs. climate change causing the issues we see in California and the West, the answer is generally both. Human actions have created a situation where fuel accumulations, invasive species, and the way homes are built produce an environment where these catastrophic wildfires are possible, even likely. But climate change is also creating conditions that exacerbate this. As this article on The Conversation puts it, “ management policies have created tinderboxes in Western forests, and climate change has made it much more likely that those tinderboxes will erupt into destructive fires.”

A state’s prescribed fire liability laws also impact how much agencies will implement prescribed fire..

This article on changing liability standards was written by Lenya Quinn Davidson, who has been very active in increasing the use of prescribed fire in California by promoting Prescribed Burn Associations: In Our Element: Changing Liability Standards to Increase Use of Prescribed Fire https://fireadaptednetwork.org/in-our-element-changing-liability-standards/

Here is more information about Liability:

Liability and Prescribed Fire: Perception and Reality: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5a4d2e54010027562ffbfcbc/t/5d8289c1aef68661e45f9dfd/1568836033937/Liability+and+Prescribed+Fire_+Perception+and+Reality.pdf

Prescribed Fire: Understanding Liability, Laws and Risk https://extension.okstate.edu/fact-sheets/prescribed-fire-understanding-liability-laws-and-risk.html

Water_Melonia2 karma

Are there plants that handle being close to/in (?) fires better than others?

Are there any unusual effects to earth/ground after wildfires that we don’t see elsewhere (example might be slower/quicker growth, failure to spread seeds, plants needing more/less water etc)?

ecology_on_fire12 karma

There are some plants and entire communities of plants that are fire sensitive, but these are systems that naturally do not burn often. This might be because they are too wet to carry fire or they do not receive much rain, so the plants are sparse and do not carry fires. Where fires occur naturally, the plants often regrow and even flower soon afterward, providing ample food for many animals.

People are often surprised at how quickly plants regrow after fire in the southeastern U.S. Six months or less after fire, the evidence a fire has occurred becomes less obvious and much of the vegetation has returned. There is open space for seeds to spread and germinate, and lots of nutrients from ash to help seedlings grow.

Video of southeastern forest following a prescribed fire


Video showing how fast saw palmetto regrows following mechanical treatment (fire surrogate)


Eko_Pop2 karma

Since I know doctors and nurses are struggling with it, I wonder if or how you all deal with psychological/mental burnout (pun not intended)?

After a quick Google, I found the 48/96 shift schedule. And during a crisis, I can't imagine what the hours would look like.

ecology_on_fire3 karma

Crew cohesion helps to deal with the physical and mental stress of firefighting. Off the fire line, a good team can help make sure that everyone is physically prepared for fire season. On the line, a good team supports each other in times of stress and can help pass the time during long days of physical work. Firefighter mental health has been overlooked as a critical component of well-being in the past, but has recently been gaining more attention.

There is a webinar series called the “Workforce Resilience Ignite Talk Series” that was created to address this topic. Webinars include Fitness and Wellness for Performance in Wildland Firefighting, Wildland Firefighters Mental Health and Well-being, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: A Practice for Challenging Times and All Times, A Way of Being Happy, and many more. They also have a webinar titled “Incident Management and COVID-19: Lessons Learned and Remaining Challenges” that goes into detail about what wildland firefighting was like during the pandemic in the beginning stages and what was learned.

Like I mentioned in the question about smoke impacts on firefighters, there are also groups like Grassroots Wildland Firefighters that are working to improve available resources, including health insurance, for our wildland firefighters. Many firefighters are seasonal employees who do not receive support like year round health insurance, which can be really important for taking care of mental and physical health. There have been quite a few articles like this one addressing the need for change, and the Biden Administration has taken some action to increase pay for federal wildland firefighters.


I'm a habitat manager in the midwest, a landscape with a long history of anthropogenic fire followed by about a century of fire suppression before burns were brought back to the prairies and, more recently, woodlands as managers have noticed a drastic decline in early and mid-successional forests due to a lack of disturbance.

I'm on one of the few parts of the midwest (driftless area) with relatively abundant, albeit small tracts that were never plowed. We've found, once we returned fire to these properties and cleared out much of the shade-tolerant stuff to promote the sun lovers, a natural return of herbaceous species that have not been documented on the site for the decades we've managed them, in some cases 50 years or more.

As an example: we've got some remnant oak savannas that we didn't know were oak savannas until we started burning. Suddenly, all these really conservative wildflower species started showing up at ground level, without any nearby seed sources.

From a fire effects standpoint, how the heck did these species survive? Is it the seed remaining viable in the soil waiting for the right conditions? Is there somehow a tiny little plant under the duff just getting enough light to maintain a rootstock? It's one of the most delightful and fascinating observations I've had but I wish I understood the dynamics better.

ecology_on_fire2 karma

Great question! It’s been shown that seeds and belowground plant structures (called rhizomes, corms, or bulbs) can survive in the soil for very long periods of time. I conducted soil seedbank sampling in Missouri and found a really diverse number of seeds in the soil even though they were not present as growing plants. Also, some seeds are good dispersers and can be carried great distances by the wind or animals. In the Southeastern U.S., wiregrass (a perennial bunchgrass) can survive for long periods in the absence of fire, even though it needs fire to flower and produce seeds. It just hangs out under leaves and litter and can be difficult to notice until burned.

KillRoyTNT2 karma

Do you work on wildfire forensics?

I've always wondered why they always go to the easy answer of blaming humans ( even on remote areas) ,my perspective most of the fires are generated because Nature calls it , one reason because it needs to regenerate the soil naturally and the other reason is because we as humans created a wildlands where it was naturally a no Wildlands area (e.g. CA , AZ, NM, FL) and nature does not work like that.

ecology_on_fire6 karma

Across the U.S., most wildfires are in fact caused by people. Of course that will vary depending on the location. In some places, lightning strikes are the primary source of ignition. In terms of management response, in some places, particularly in the U.S. West where there are large tracts of public lands, wildfires are sometimes managed for “resource benefit.” This ultimately means that natural ignitions are monitored, tracked, and sometimes corralled to accomplish land management objectives that are good for all of us (wildlife, timber, watersheds, future wildfire risk, etc.). In many places, particularly in the Eastern half of the U.S., managed wildfires are rarely an option. In these places, prescribed fire is the only option for getting fire onto the landscape to achieve management objectives.

This podcast episode has an interesting perspective considering wildfire suppression as a liability: Life With Fire “Is suppressing wildfire actually more of a liability than prescribed burning? With Will Harting”


nicklikesrockets2 karma

Sorry I’m just a UF student that reads the news no fire expert but I have always wondered how much of California’s wild fire problem is improper forest management? My understanding is that the California government has stuck to the plan of put out all fires and doesn’t allow for the natural burnings to occur which makes future fires worst? I guess my real question is is California’s wildfires a policy issue or an climate change issue or a little of both?

ecology_on_fire3 karma

California is a big state. In some places, there is too much fire (Southern California) led by increased human ignitions and changes in natural fuels due to invasive grasses). In some places (Northern California) a 100-year legacy of fire suppression initially led by the federal government has led to an accumulation of fuels. This “fire debt,” combined with human development, invasive species, climate change, and increased human ignition sources (accidents, vehicles, powerlines, arson) have led to the wildfire situation in California. In other words, it’s a mixture of issues causing the current situation. Agencies and grassroots organizations are increasingly working to get more prescribed fire on the ground in California to address the fire debt and reduce the wildfire risk in the northern part of the state.

In terms of policy/forest management vs. climate change causing the issues we see in California and the West, the answer is generally both. Human actions have created a situation where fuel accumulations, invasive species, and the way homes are built produce an environment where these catastrophic wildfires are possible, even likely. But climate change is also creating conditions that exacerbate this. As this article in The Conversation puts it, “management policies have created tinderboxes in Western forests, and climate change has made it much more likely that those tinderboxes will erupt into destructive fires.”

And no need to apologize for asking questions - I’m glad you did, and it was a great question!

FaisalAli_912 karma

Hey Dr. Crandall,

I'm a data analyst interested in creating some data visualizations on forest fires.

What are some good data sources to look at? What are some interesting trends I should be investigating?

ecology_on_fire5 karma

Below are a few sites to get your started. Many of them contain links to additional sites.

The NIFC database has access to a range of fire geospatial data https://data-nifc.opendata.arcgis.com.

The Southern Fire Exchange also has a list of mapping and geospatial resources that may be helpful: https://southernfireexchange.org/models-tools-apps/maps-weather/.

Another great resource to check out is https://wildfirerisk.org, which is a joint project between the U.S. Forest Service and Headwaters Economics.

Trusty_Craftsman2 karma

Are you mainly working out at Ordway-Swisher? Have you incorporated any of the data NEON (national ecological observatory network) collects?

When I was part of the project we worked through a burn there. I'm pretty sure NEON data is being used in analysis of the Gatlinburg fires as well.

Heck you could probably fill out a proposal to use one of their mobile research platforms to monitor a burn.

ecology_on_fire3 karma

We have several, active research projects at Ordway-Swisher Biological Station! It is a beautiful place to work! One project is looking at the effects of season of burn on understory plant reproduction and several projects focus on the effects of varying the fire regime on wiregrass (Aristida beyrichiana) and dropseed (Sporobolus junceus). We have used NEON vegetation data for multiple research projects. In fact, we have thermocouple deployed there now to measure fire temperatures the next time we are able to light a prescribed fire. Do your “no rain” dance for us since it is currently too wet to burn!

NEON data can be accessed at: https://data.neonscience.org

tenfield1 karma

Thanks for your service. If you could wave a magic wand, what would you have the average citizen do to help prevent wildfire?

ecology_on_fire7 karma

Educating others on the importance of prescribed fire is very helpful and important! Smokey Bear spread the message for decades that all fire should be prevented. He now spreads the message that WILDFIRES should be prevented, but many people still think of all fires as bad. Consider checking out Smokey’s friend Burner Bob. We can all play our part in changing the culture to good fire! Promoting the use of safe, prescribed fires to improve habitat and prevent wildfires.

People living in wooded areas can also make their homes fire resistant by following firescaping guidelines. Here are some links to get you started:

SFE Webinar: Preparing for Wildfires with Firescaping - Master Gardener Training for the Southeast


Firescaping: Wildfire-Resistant Landscaping in Georgia



As climate change increases the frequency of wildfires and the prevalence of high fire risk conditions do you think prescribed burns will become unnecessary and/or too risky to perform?

ecology_on_fire7 karma

This is a great question! Because wildfire risk is increasing, the use of prescribed fire is becoming more and more important. Because there are many regions where continued drought conditions will make prescribed fires more and more difficult, it is more important than ever to begin lighting prescribed fires. We always carefully consider weather conditions when planning and prescribing burns. If deemed unsafe, we do not light fires!

Here are some great resources for learning more:

Fourth National Climate Assessment: Regional Fire Science Implications


SFE Fact Sheet - “Wildland Fire and Climate Change Impacts in the Southern United States”


Letsdrinkabeer1 karma

Do you miss “the line”? What are some ways of reading smoke that you learned first hand fighting fire? Any close calls? What are some of the leadership skills needed and physical attributes of a seasoned wildland firefighter.

I’m a structural FF and love everything about “dancing with the devil”. Would consider wildland if the opportunity presented itself.

ecology_on_fire3 karma

I am still on the line a lot lighting and studying prescribed fires, but I suppose I do miss it every day I am not out there!

I have not had any particularly close calls (knock on non-burning wood), but I attribute that to maintaining diligence on the fire line, paying attention to look out situations, and adequately preparing for each fire. Good communication and observation skills are essential, and of course, wildland firefighters need to be physically fit. The International Association for Wildland Fire recently produced an “Ignite Talk” on wildland firefighter fitness and wellness: https://www.iawfonline.org/events/webinars/

You can tell a lot by observing smoke, particularly the color which indicates to firefighters the density and types of fuels that are burning. White smoke often means the fuels are light and flashy. In other words, they are burning fast. Grey smoke tells us the fire is slowing down and running out of fuels to burn. Thick, black smoke sometimes indicates that combustion is incomplete, which you often see when human-made materials, such as tires, are being burned or when fire intensity is particularly high.

HouseSparrow8731 karma

What is the no. 1 cause of wildfires?

What can people who go (wild)camping do to prevent fires? What would be the safest method of cooking, firepit, barbecue or gas burner?

How would a hiker in the woods notice a fire, and how would they know which way to run?

ecology_on_fire5 karma

Re: Wildfire cause

In the Southeastern U.S.? Humans! These can include intentional arson as well as accidents caused by escaped campfires, backyard debris burning, and equipment such as cars or farm equipment that create sparks.

It’s also important to remember that while fires in the modern era should be set by trained prescribed burners for safety, humans have always played a major role in fire ignitions in the Southeast. Before Europeans ever showed up, Native Americans used fire extensively as a management tool. In the past, lightning ignited fires too, as it still does now, and these fires could burn over much larger areas since the landscape was not broken up by roads, buildings, and lawns the way it is today.

ecology_on_fire3 karma

Re: Safe cooking and noticing a fire

90% of wildland fires in the United States are caused by people. They can be caused by campfires left unattended, the burning of debris, downed power lines, negligently discarded cigarettes and intentional acts of arson.

All methods of cooking can be safe as long as you follow the necessary precautions, clear vegetation around your cooking space, and make sure there isn’t a local burn ban in place.

If you find yourself hiking in the woods and see a fire, do not run towards it. Although this might sound like a sarcastic answer, it is really the best one I can offer. Many factors, including wind, topography, and fuels affect fire movement, so your safest option is just to move away from the fire if you can do so easily and safely. Most fires are slow moving, so it might not even be necessary to run!

michalemabelle1 karma

How much time do you spend in the Okefenokee?

Also, why don't the Western states used prescribed burns to prevent wildfires?

ecology_on_fire4 karma

RE: Western wildfires:

Western states do use prescribed fire, and there is a growing support for the use of prescribed fire across the West. But they face a lot of challenges in getting that done on the ground. Western states have a legacy of decades of fire suppression that have led to unnatural accumulations of vegetation (called ‘fuels’) in many places. Compounding that with weather patterns and topography that make prescribed fire smoke management challenging, along with housing developments in areas referred to as the ‘wildland urban interface’ WUI, and long-term droughts due to climate change, make expanding prescribed fire use in many areas of the West challenging. That being said, it’s an important and critical tool for managing many ecosystems, protecting watersheds and communities, and reducing wildfire risk. Here’s an article from a couple of years ago that some of our team members contributed to on the subject.
I also highly recommend this New York Times video, which gives a good introduction to some of the people working to overcome the barriers to prescribed fire in California.

purplecatdoglover1 karma

Do any animals die during prescribed fires?

ecology_on_fire10 karma

Animals have evolved with fire in the Southeast. Prescribed fires are also typically managed to give animals opportunities to escape. As u/BLOCK_OF_JADE mentioned, some individual animals do sometimes die in a fire. But most are able to escape prescribed fires, and we generally light fires in a way that gives animals a chance to escape. Large animals such as deer and bobcats simply run away. Birds can fly away. Smaller animals, like snakes, lizards, frogs, and even small mammals escape into burrows or stump holes. We have even seen grasshoppers and scorpions climbing trees to escape the heat from fires.

Research shows that the habitat improvement that prescribed fire creates for these animals greatly outweighs the small number that might not escape an individual fire. Even ground nesting birds like turkeys and quail benefit from prescribed fire, with research showing that even in the growing season many nests are not destroyed and that if a nest is lost, many birds renest that same season.

We have worked with expert researchers to host some webinars that talk about the impacts of prescribed fire on popular southeastern bird species: Growing Season Fires and Ground-Nesting Birds and

Influence of Prescribed Fire on Eastern Wild Turkeys.

TheDarkFriar1 karma

What was your path to becoming a Wildland Firefighter? Any tips for people trying to become one?

ecology_on_fire9 karma

I was able to participate in my first prescribed fire as an undergraduate student and “caught the fire bug.” My path was facilitated by the fact that I had acquired the necessary training. This training is offered in multiple locations around the country and can be partially completed online via the National Wildland Coordinating Group Webpage.

If you’re interested in wildland fire as a career, you might try reaching out to your local natural resource management agency (US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service) and state forestry agency. Fire people love to talk about fire - there is probably someone in one of those agencies that would love to sit down with you. Some agencies and organizations also let people volunteer to help on prescribed fires. The Student Conservation Association and AmeriCorp can be a good pathway into fire careers and experience too.

myakka_rancher1 karma

There is a very high ratio of sabal palms in the woods at my ranch in Manatee County, FL. We regularly burn them. How often should they be burned and should we leave some unburned? Thanks,

ecology_on_fire2 karma

Sabal palms are resistant to fires, even frequent fires, when they are adults. Thus, it should not be necessary to leave any of them unburned. If you want more sabal palms on your property, it might be necessary to stop burning around them for a few years (but more sabal palms are rarely a desired thing). Other than that, I would need to know more information about your property and the ecosystem type to provide further recommendations about burn frequency.

Ct-5736-Bladez1 karma

How do you and your teams work with park rangers, forest rangers, and game wardens during fires? I understand other law enforcement being used for evacuation purposes but how do “nature cops” so to speak fit in? Is it the same as other Leo’s?

ecology_on_fire3 karma

Park rangers are often burning alongside us! Game wardens may come to check out the burn and see how it is going, but they are well aware of the benefits of prescribed fire. Sometimes, law enforcement may come to a prescribed fire to help spread awareness to the public so that they know that the smoke they are seeing is caused by a purposeful, planned, contained, and supervised fire and is nothing to be concerned about.

JamieFindThatVideo1 karma

How come when I do it I get arrested? (J/k)

But seriously, have you ever had a fire get away from you/the prescribed burn zone?

ecology_on_fire5 karma

Although you mention you are just kidding, you bring up a great point! It is important to gain experience, be properly trained, become certified, and get a proper permit before burning. Less than 1% of prescribed fires become wildfires. Although we occasionally have fires spot outside of the burn zone, we watch carefully for them and are often able to put them out before they grow into wildfires.

littlebear_blackfoot1 karma

Is there a difference between a good fire and a bad fire? And a follow-up question.. pineapple on pizza or not?

ecology_on_fire3 karma

Generally speaking, the difference between a good and bad fire has to do with the intensity of the fire and what is in its path. A 500-acre prescribed fire can have immense benefits to the natural environment and to humans by reducing the risk of high intensity wildfires, while a 2-acre wildfire can be considered a bad fire if it burns down a house. A fire could also be considered “bad” if the smoke impacts a roadway causing dangerous driving conditions. A spontaneous fire can become either “good” or “bad” depending on surrounding structures and weather conditions. If the fire starts on a hot, windy day near homes, then it could become damaging very quickly, whereas if it starts on a day with moderate weather in the middle of a forested area, it could be beneficial in terms of fuels reduction and habitat management.

Some western agencies are now implementing managed wildfires: when a fire starts, the team looks at the surrounding area to determine if any structures will be impacted, weather conditions (is it going to get hot and windy in the next few days or does it look like the weather will stay mild for the foreseeable future?), and resource availability (do they have everything they could possibly need in terms of engines, crew members, helicopters, etc). If the weather is mild and the fire is not threatening any structures (like if it is in a national forest away from cabins and people) then the team can monitor the fire and any changing conditions.

And, yes to pineapple on pizza!