Spring Is Prescribed Fire Season

Fire crew burning Curtis Prairie in 2019

Prescribed fire in Curtis Prairie, 2018

Prescribed fire season is underway at the Arboretum. Wisconsin’s prairies, oak savannas, oak woodlands, and even some wetlands evolved to rely on fire for regeneration. Prescribed fires mimic natural ones and fires set by Native Americans, and they are set and managed under specific conditions. Fire restores a natural process, stimulates native vegetation growth and seed production, improves wildlife habitat, and provides valuable training and research opportunities.

Prescribed fires are usually set in early spring (March through May) or late fall, and sometimes during the summer. They are conducted within a strict set of parameters (the prescription) that include temperature, wind speed and direction, relative humidity, and fuel conditions, among many others.

The safety of crew and visitors is always a top priority. Prescribed fire can burn very hot and fast. If you happen to visit the Arboretum during a fire, please follow these safety precautions:

  • Always stay off trails and firebreaks that are closed for a prescribed fire, and do not go off trail
  • Keep a safe distance from smoke, flames, and heat
  • Do not interfere with or obstruct movement of crew, equipment, and vehicles
  • Do not distract a prescribed fire crew

Before and during each burn, the fire manager checks that all current and expected parameters are within prescribed ranges to conduct a safe fire, have good smoke lift, and meet the land care goals. Prescribed fire crew members have taken wildland fire training and use full protective clothing and equipment.

Mopping up after flames are out is also a critical time for safety and fire management, so please continue to observe these precautions around any site with an active fire crew.

The Arboretum gets permission from the City of Madison or the City of Fitchburg (depending on prescribed fire location) and notifies local officials before every fire is ignited. The Arboretum is not located within a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fire protection area.

Smoke may be the most visible sign for visitors, neighbors, and travelers on nearby roads. Visitors to the Arboretum might see posted signs alerting the public to burn activity and closed trails, or swaths of blackened areas after a burn.

—Susan Day, communications manager