Prescribed burning

Prevention by means of fire

Prescribed burning can prevent or limit wildfires

What is prescribed burning?

Prescribed burning can be described as “to reduce the level of vegetation fuel (shrubs, litter, grass, etc.) to decrease the risk of fire”. The technique is applied by specialist teams (foresters, fire fighters, etc.).

Prescribed burning is effective and has economical advantages. This “management tool” can also be used to advantage to satisfy other management objectives and is the single preferred option for fuel management at a large scale. Its major limitation is the need to comply with a restricted weather and fuel moisture window. Fortunately, this also minimizes the risk of fire escape, smoke production and negative ecological effects. However, it also demands increased public awareness, training and planning. Prescribed burning can also be used to maintain natural processes and is as such playing a vital role within the framework of "close-to-nature" forestry and areas with conservation status.

How does it work?

The prescribed burning task starts by studying the characteristics of the area (e.g. vegetation, fuel and terrain) as well as weather conditions predicted and observed on site. The criteria will determine how and in what direction the fire is ignited. Most of the time, fire is ignited against the wind and down the slope, to slow-down fire spread and for better control of the fire.

A low intensity prescribed burning

After upper control lines have been constructed, successive strip fire lines are created, igniting the fire as far as possible parallel to slopes. In this way strips of fire are created, which will form a fire pattern as illustrated in the picture (English translation of text in picture?) Once completed, the prescribed burning team will check the site for any smoldering signs, which will then be extinguished properly.

Prescribed burning arguments ...


  • Reduces fuel hazard and fire risk

  • Achieves wildlife habitat maintenance/improvement and agricultural goals

  • Implemented by highly trained professionals

  • Applying science of fire behaviour and fire ecology

  • Implemented according to laws and regulations

  • Support local and historical uses of fire

  • Less expensive than alternative treatments

  • Increases knowledge of management techniques

  • Training opportunities for fire fighters

  • Light intensity fire has no detrimental effects on soil


  • Produces smoke
  • Although always significantly less than uncontrolled fires

  • Carbon increase
  • As above, and thus contributes to the recognition of the Kyoto Protocol

  • Risk of fire escape
  • Almost non-existent in controlled fires

  • Unsightly results (e.g. blackened tree bark)
  • Green restoration in spring

  • Possible negative effects on plants and animals
  • Mostly only experienced in uncontrolled fires

  • Possible adverse effect on soil
  • In medium to high intensity fires

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History about prescribed burning

Prescribed burning application dates back to the days when traditional fire application was used to “renew” farm land and hunting grounds. This traditional form fire application is also called “pastoral fire use”. During the last century, the traditional use of fire decreased mainly as a result of the rural recession in the Mediterranean regions.

Who manages prescribed burning?

Prescribed burning is a complex operation allocated to selected specialized teams, which are well-trained. The team works according to pre-determined fire ignition patterns within the regulations as stipulated by the law.

Portuguese Prescribed Burning Web Site

A Portuguese Prescribed Burning web site is under construction in the context of the Fire Paradox.

A Portuguese Prescribed Burning web site

Online Multimedia Plateform : Prototype