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Oregon / Washington

Prescribed Burn Terminology

Prescribed Fire (Controlled Burn)

Spokane Fire Fighter
Spokane Fire Fighter

This vegetative management tool is used to maintain fire dependent ecosystems and restore those outside their natural balance, and to meet resource objectives identified in a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) document. Prior to ignition, a written, reviewed, and approved prescribed fire plan must be completed. Most prescribed fires are lit by crews using the drip torch, a hand-carried device that pours out a small stream of burning fuel. Other fires or burns are ignited by helicopters carrying a gelled fuel torch (helitorch) or a sphere dispenser machine that drops material to ignite the surface fuels in forest and range types. The method of ignition for each unit depends on weather, the lay of the land, and the intensity of the fire needed to meet the goal of the burn. Three general types of prescribed fire are:

  • Pile Burning: Cut material piled either by hand or mechanical resulting from logging or fuel management activities are burned during the wetter months to reduce damage to residual stand and to confine fire to the size of the pile. Piling allows for the material to cure, producing less smoke and rapid consumption when burned.
  • Understory burning/ Underburning: A fire that consumes surface fuels but not the overstory vegetation can be used after initial thinning treatment or a maintenance burn, to maintain the desired fuel loading conditions.
  • Broadcast burning: A fire burning in areas with little or no forest stand present. Generally, broadcast burning is used in grasslands, shrublands, and oak woodlands for restoration and fuels reduction purposes.

Prescribed Fire Plan

A plan required for each fire application ignited by management. Plans are documents prepared by qualified personnel, approved by the agency administrator, and include criteria for the conditions under which the fire will be conducted (a prescription) to meet the resource objectives of the NEPA document.

Smoke Management

Hull Mountain Fire, column as seen from Foothill Road, Medford, approximately two hours after ignition.
Hull Mountain Fire, column as seen from Foothill Road, Medford, approximately two hours after ignition.

Clearance to burn must be granted from Smoke Management at Oregon Department of Forestry (ODF) or Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR) prior to ignition. During the months that prescribed burning occurs, a daily smoke management forecast and burning instructions are issued by an air quality forecaster from ODF or DNR, which is used by the burn boss to help determine optimal burning conditions. Final permission to burn comes from either the smoke management forecast instructions or verbally from the forecaster.

Prescribed Fire Burn Boss

A qualified person responsible for the writing of burn plans, obtaining smoke clearance and weather forecasts, notifying contacts of upcoming burn, obtaining all personnel and equipment needed to conduct burn, ensuring personnel and public safety, and ensuring that smoke management requirements and resource objectives are being met.

Surface Fuels

Fuels lying on or near the surface, consisting of leaf and needle litter, dead branch material, downed logs, bark, tree cones, and low vegetation.

Ladder Fuels

Fuels which provide vertical continuity between strata, allowing fire to carry from surface fuels into the crowns of trees or shrubs with relative ease. They help initiate the continuation of crowning.

You can learn more about why do prescribed burning.