March is Prescribed Fire Awareness Month
Gov. Kay Ivey has proclaimed March 2023 ‘Prescribed Fire Awareness’ Month in the state of Alabama.
A coalition of state, federal, and private organizations under the umbrella of the Alabama Prescribed Fire Council requested the proclamation to raise awareness of the essential role that fire plays in both the stewardship of our natural resources and the protection of lives and property.
Prescribed burning is the skilled application of fire under planned weather and fuel conditions to achieve specific forest and land management objectives.
A traditional land management tool that is a part of Alabama’s heritage and culture, this ancient practice was notably used by Native Americans for crop management, insect and pest control, and hunting habitat improvement, among other purposes.
The practice continues today under the direction of land managers who understand the appropriate weather conditions, fuel loads, and atmospheric conditions for conducting such burns.
These carefully applied fires are an important tool to reduce wildfires, enhance wildlife habitat, and keep the nearly 23 million acres of forested land in Alabama healthy and productive.
While prescribed burning cannot stop all wildfires, it is the best management tool available for preventing larger and more frequent outbreaks.
“Prescribed burning is not only the most effective, natural, and economical protection against wildfires because it reduces accumulated fuels,” said Gov. Ivey in her proclamation, “but it is also a critical tool in managing and maintaining the ecological integrity of Alabama’s woodlands, grasslands, and wildlife habitats.”
Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) Forest Protection Chief John Goff said prescribed burning is conducted on approximately one million acres in Alabama every year – most of them on private land – but that number represents only one quarter of the acreage that should be burned annually.
“Every prescribed burn accomplishes multiple benefits.” said Goff. “Most of the woodlands in Alabama are adapted to fire and are burned regularly, historically speaking. When responsible land managers use prescribed fire as a tool under the correct weather and fuel conditions, we can maintain wildlife habitat and forest health while also reducing the severity of wildfires.”
Get a permit before you burn.
State law requires that you obtain a permit from the Alabama Forestry Commission (AFC) before you burn any woodland, grassland, field, or new ground that is over one-quarter acre in size or lies within 25 feet of natural fuels, such as woods or grass.
Obtaining a burn permit allows the AFC to know which fires are controlled and which are wildfires.
If your proposed burn is less than one-quarter acre you do not need a burn permit.
Permits are free of charge and can be obtained in just a few minutes over the telephone.
You can get a permit by calling the Alabama Forestry Commission dispatch center at (800) 392-5679.
You’ll be asked a few questions about your burn such as, the location of the burn by giving the Lat/Long. (You can determine this information by using the AFC ‘Lat + Long Locator Map’ at https://forestry.alabama.gov/Pages/Maps/Locator.aspx.)
Other information you will need to provide is the size of the burn, what you are burning (grassland/fields/forests), and the purpose of the burn.
In addition, you must have adequate tools, equipment, and manpower to stay with and control the fire the entire period that it is active to ensure that it doesn’t escape.
Even though the burner has a permit, he/she is still responsible for any damage to others that may be caused if the fire escapes or smoke from the fire.
The permit may be canceled by the AFC for failure to comply with the terms of the permit, weather condition changes which cause erratic and dangerous fire behavior, or if the burn produces smoke which becomes a hazard to others or contributes to a degradation of air quality.
Some local municipalities issue their own burn permits.
You will need to check with your local fire department for any county and city laws that may restrict outdoor burning.
It is also a good idea to notify your local fire department that you will be burning.