What is a prescribed fire?
Prescribed fire is an essential tool for maintaining native biological diversity and open non-woody habitat. All participants in the prescribed fire are trained and certified through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group which sets fire operation standards and the safe effective use of prescribed fire through training. The prescribed fires are always conducted with safety as the top priority and will be executed under strict requirements as set forth in a Forest Service-approved prescribed burn plan including fuel and weather parameters. Fire staff is trained to monitor the weather, temperature, humidity, moisture levels, cloud cover, and wind leading up to and during a burn to ensure that the fire remains at the planned intensity. If these parameters are not met the prescribed fire will not take place. The prescribed fire will be contained within the identified area using a combination of fire engines, suppression crews, and the creation of fire breaks of non-combustible material such as mineral soils and mowed grass. Smoke will be visible but should lift adequately above surrounding areas when weather parameters are met.
When will the prescribed fire be conducted?
The implementation of the prescribed fire is completely dependent on weather conditions. Therefore, the precise date and time cannot be determined until weather conditions are certified on the day of implementation. Montgomery Parks will conduct outreach to the general population a minimum of two weeks before the anticipated implementation. Adjacent property owners are notified at least one month in advance. An alert will be placed on this webpage to alert the public of anticipated timeframes and closures.
Prescribed Fire’s role in meadow management and restoration.
Fire is a natural process and many native plants have evolved to thrive with periodic episodes of natural fire, but fires have not been allowed to reach many habitats for several reasons, which has led to a decline in diversity. Prescribed fire is used to replicate historic ecosystem disturbances that maintain and enhance native biological diversity and in turn make it more resilient. Prescribed fire can be used as an alternative to meadow mowing, as it removes unwanted vegetation, as well as removing the layer of dead plant material, also known as duff, and allows sunlight and rain to reach the soil surface to promote the regeneration or establishment, particularly of native wildflowers. While mowing is useful to keep habitats open, over time diversity will decline if dead plant material is not removed. The prescribed fire will be conducted outside of the growing season. This means that most animals will be dormant and/ or not breeding thus impacts on wildlife will be negligible and improved habitat should increase wildlife diversity over time. For more information check out the Meadow Management and Restoration Program.
Montgomery Parks Prescribed Fire Program FAQs
The prescribed fire program is the identification of habitats appropriate for the use of prescribed fire, it is currently carried out with the assistance of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Forest Service.
Prescribed fire is used to replicate historic ecosystem disturbances that maintain and enhance native biological diversity.
Prescribed fire is used as an alternative to meadow mowing. It removes the layer of dead plant material, also known as duff, allowing sunlight and rain to reach the soil surface promoting the regeneration or establishment, particularly of native wildflowers. While mowing is useful to keep habitats open, over time diversity will decline if dead plant material is not removed.
This depends on site objectives, but most prescribed fires will be conducted prior to or after the growing season for native plants.
A prescribed fire is no longer planned for 2023.
Like all other weather parameters, a prescribed fire prescription lists appropriate conditions. At a minimum The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Forest Service and Montgomery Parks will look for smoke to raise 200’ above the unit, however, the target is to have the smoke from the fire to raise at least 1500’.
Areas, where prescribed fire is being conducted, will be closed to the public. Staff will be located at access points to inform visitors of closures if they did not see public postings.
If known sensitive wildlife has been observed on the site, we will search the site before conducting a prescribed fire. Currently, we anticipate conducting prescribed fires outside of the growing season. This means that most animals will be dormant and/ or not breeding thus impacts to be negligible and improved habitat should increase wildlife diversity over time.
1) Prescribed fire plans are created dictating parameters (e.g. fuel characteristics, weather parameters, and containment parameters) for the safe execution of prescribed fires. If even one parameter is not met the prescribed fire will not be conducted. Prescribed fire plans are approved by the Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the local fire authority.
2) Prescribed fire staff is trained to national standards through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group. Adequate resources are on-site including fire engines and suppress teams to ensure containment.
3) Burn breaks are constructed of non-combustible materials such as mineral soil or green grass and are of adequate size to ensure containment.
4) Prescribed fires are ignited at the furthest downwind fire break so that the fire is traveling into the wind low and slow, enhancing the size of the burn break, this is known as a backing fire.
5) When backing fire has made adequate progress and enough area has been burned to contain the fire, flank fires are ignited which run parallel to the prevailing wind direction.
6) Finally, after flank fires have made adequate progress, the head fire can be ignited, completing a ring around the site. The fire will self-extinguish when all three ignition types meet(opens in a new tab).
7) The site is considered secure when all smoldering debris has been completely extinguished and the site is what we call “cold.”
8) Firefighters will not leave the site until it is ensured that no fire residual remains.
9) The burn boss, or person in charge of the fire, will maintain an open line of communication with the local fire authority, reporting ignition and when the site is “cold.”
You can contact Montgomery Parks Vegetation Ecologist, Ryan Colliton, at email@example.com for more information about the prescribed fire program.