Prescribed Burn Safety

April 7—Spring is here, and the fields and forests of Alabama will soon be “green again.” This period signifies the end of winter and the period of dormant prescribed burning. In the face of the beast that is fire, it is crucial to know how to stay safe regardless of the burning season.

The use of prescribed burning has proven to be one of the most beneficial tools in agriculture and forest management. In crop fields, it removes debris before the next planting, controls weeds and reduces pests/diseases. In forestry, running a fire through a forest floor allows sunlight to reach the lower treetops, decreases natural competition for wood, and nourishes the soil.

Preparation is key

Proper preparation combined with a defensive strategy is essential when deciding to intentionally burn sections of a property. Without either of these, disaster could strike, leaving lives and property (that is, not just yours) hanging in the balance.

“One way to greatly reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires is to be well prepared,” said Norm Haley, a regional forestry, wildlife and natural resources officer with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System. “Being able to quickly extinguish a small ‘jump’ in the fire can be the difference between a harmless burn and a disaster.”

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Having the proper personal protective equipment is vitally important when performing a prescribed burn. Without these supplies, the risk and danger during a burn of any size increases dramatically. Landowners should take note of the necessary PPE items listed below.

eye protection – goggles, clear goggles or sunglasses as a minimum

fire resistant clothing

Leather boots



fire shelter

Tame the flames

The triangle of fire

Fire cannot thrive without the existence of three components: oxygen, fuel and heat. This trio is called the “triangle of fire”. Without the existence of these three elements, the fire will not thrive. Removing just one of these items will cause any flame to slowly extinguish or completely disappear.

The term combustible refers to any material, living or not, that fire can use to spread. This can range from light, flashy combustibles such as grasses or shrubs to larger materials like stumps and piled up storm debris that take longer to extinguish. Of course, in dry conditions, the ignition rate of these fuels is exacerbated by the lack of moisture in the air and the material itself.

Tools of the trade

There are several tools to relatively control the fire. One of the most commonly used techniques is firebreaks, also known as fire lanes. These paths are usually created at 6 to 30 feet using a bulldozer or disc plow depending on the surrounding combustibles and reduced to bare mineral soil which prohibits the spread of fire. However, these barriers are not fireproof and other forms of relief are required.

“Keeping a tractor with disc, hand rakes and water tanks/sprayers nearby is equally important for fire containment,” Haley said.

Be your own meteorologist

When deciding when to burn, it is imperative that landowners pay attention to weather conditions.

“The difference between safely burning a pile of leaves or performing a 50-acre prescribed burn is not only the weather on the day of the fire, but also the conditions of the days leading up to it,” said Haley said.

In windy or prolonged dry conditions, burning may be too risky and unfavorable to your safety and that of the burning crew. Haley says you don’t want to be to blame for your loss or someone else’s loss.

“Don’t be the one mumbling the phrase ‘I didn’t know this could spread so quickly’ to firefighters and sheriffs around the county,” Haley said.

Certified Prescribed Burn Manager

To meet the requirements of Alabama’s prescribed burning law, a training program has been implemented. The Certified Prepressed Burn Manager course covers 32 hours of discussion, planning, and study of Alabama’s fire laws. Anyone interested in using prescribed burning as a management tool is encouraged to participate in the program.

Haley says, “The course will emphasize the need for a proper burn plan and the importance of having emergency phone numbers ready in case you need emergency help.”

Back to Cinder

Being fire aware is the name of the game as you complete your prescribed burns towards the end of the 2021-22 season. Gather appropriate information and procedures from your local fire professionals and first responders. If in doubt or if you think you have witnessed a wildfire, call 911. For more information on prescribed burning and safety, visit the Alabama Cooperative Extension System website at

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