Prescribed burning or prescribed fire is a safe and economical way to apply a natural process to ensure ecosystem health and reduce the risk of wildfire. This process is a time-honored, universally applied tactic used by land managers across the globe. To help manage the biological integrity of more than 64,000 acres of environmentally sensitive lands acquired through the Jan K. Platt Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program (ELAPP), Hillsborough County Conservation & Environmental Lands Management (CELM) routinely conducts prescribed fires on County conservation lands.
This keeps native habitats within nature preserves and conservation parks thriving for wildlife and residents to enjoy. Learn more about the use of prescribed fire below.
Prescribed Burn FAQs
What is prescribed fire and why do we need it?
Prescribed fire is a land management tool used to restore and maintain fire-dependent ecosystems, enhance forest health, improve wildlife habitat, and reduce the chances of dangerous, uncontrolled wildfire by decreasing hazardous fuels. Fire promotes healthy ecosystems by clearing out competing vegetation, cycling nutrients into the soil, stimulating growth and seed production of fire-dependent plants, and providing food for wildlife. One of the greatest benefits of prescribed fire is that it reduces “fuels” such as underbrush, branches, pine needles, leaves, and dead plant debris that build up on the forest floor over time. Reducing fuels every few years helps reduce the intensity, heat, and destructive force of a wildfire if one occurs.
Who conducts prescribed fires on Hillsborough County-managed land?
Prescribed fires are carefully planned. Highly trained professional teams conduct the burns using a “prescription” that has been written specifically for the area to be burned. Teams may include staff from Hillsborough County Conservation & Environmental Lands Management, Florida Forest Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Florida State Parks, professional contractors, and qualified volunteers, depending on the location of the prescribed fire and the requirements of the burn plan or prescription.
How will I know when a prescribed fire is going to take place?
County staff will place roadside signs near a prescribed fire site on the day of the scheduled burn. Notices may be posted on social media for the affected communities. Check HCFLGov.net/RxFire for notices of current fires. If you have questions or would like additional details about a prescribed burn near you, call (813) 672-7876.
You can opt-in to receive prescribed fire email notifications. We are working to implement a system that will allow you to receive notices by phone, email, or text message when a prescribed burn is taking place within a few miles of your home.
What happens to wildlife during a prescribed burn?
The safety of wildlife is always a concern during prescribed fires. Prescribed fire plans are prepared to account for wildlife safety, and prescribed fires are conducted to allow animals to seek safety during the relatively slow-moving prescribed fires. Some animals take refuge by moving to unburned or previously burned areas. Small animals seek shelter under logs, in old trees, and in burrows like those of the gopher tortoise. Few animals are harmed by prescribed fire, especially during the growing season when the weather is warm and most animals are active. Ground nesting birds build new nests, and benefit from an increase of insects resulting from new plant growth after the fire. Fast-moving, high-heat wildfires usually do not provide the same opportunity for wildlife to escape.
How long does a prescribed fire last?
Most prescribed fires last only one day. However, it is sometimes beneficial to the environment to let a fire continue into the night or the next day if the area burning is secure, and the smoke will not negatively impact the community.
How long does the smoke remain?
Concerns regarding smoke created by prescribed fire are a priority, especially for the residential areas surrounding many nature preserves in Hillsborough County. The prescribed burn teams take precautions to limit the amount of smoke produced by the fire. Some light smoke, haze and small flames may remain in the area of a prescribed fire for several days or longer.
I live near an area to be burned. Are there any precautions I should take?
Yes, here are some tips to help you minimize impact to yourself and your home.
- On the day of the burn, keep doors and windows closed to avoid smoke in your home.
- Do not hang laundry outdoors to dry, as items may become infused with the smell of smoke.
- If you have health issues that can be aggravated by smoke, such as asthma, allergies, or respiratory ailments, limit outdoor activity, or temporarily leave the area during and immediately after the burn.
Where can I go to see areas where prescribed fires have taken place?
A few of the nature preserves that have had frequent prescribed fires are Golden Aster Scrub, Balm-Boyette Scrub, Brooker Creek Headwaters, Lower Green Swamp, and Blackwater Creek Nature Preserves.