Spring Is Prescribed Fire Season

The spring prescribed fire season will soon be underway at the UW–Madison Arboretum and Lakeshore Nature Preserve. Both manage many acres of remnant and restored prairies, oak savannas, and woodlands—native Wisconsin ecosystems that are fire dependent. Prescribed fire restores a natural process, stimulates native vegetation growth and seed production, improves wildlife habitat, and provides valuable training and research opportunities.

The ecological benefits are many, and the safety of crew and visitors is always a top priority. Prescribed fire can burn very hot and fast. If you happen to be visiting the Arboretum or the Preserve 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

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.

Prescribed fires are usually set in early spring (March through May) and sometimes late fall. 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. 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.

Neither the Arboretum nor the Preserve is located within a Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fire protection area. Both get permission from the City of Madison or the City of Fitchburg (depending on prescribed fire location) and notify local officials before every fire is ignited.

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

For information about prescribed fire at the Arboretum, please call the Visitor Center at (608) 263-7888, from 9:30 a.m.–4 p.m. weekdays or 12:30–4 p.m. weekends. For information about prescribed fire in the Preserve, call the Program Manager at (608) 265-9275, 8 a.m.–4:30 p.m. weekdays. Local fire departments and UWPD are notified in advance of every prescribed fire.


Read more about prescribed fire at the Arboretum

Contacts: Michael Hansen, (608) 262-3289, michael.hansen@wisc.edu, Arboretum
Adam Gundlach, (608) 220-3482, adam.gundlach@wisc.edu, Lakeshore Nature Preserve