The Guide to Prescribed Fire in Southern Ecosystems

Prescribed fire burning in a forestPrescribed burning is FIRE “applied in a skillful manner, under exacting weather conditions, in a definite place, to achieve specific results.”

Printed on the inside cover of the Introduction to Prescribed Fire in Southern Ecosystems, the sentence sets the tone for the revised guide developed by U.S. Forest Service Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists Tom Waldrop and Scott Goodrick and published by SRS in 2012.

The guide is designed to help resource managers plan and execute prescribed burns in southern forests and grasslands. Originally written in 1966 by Merlin Dixon from the Forest Service Southern Region, the guide had gone through numerous revisions, the last in 1988 by Southern Region fire manager James Lunsford and SRS research forester Dale Wade, who also worked as a forester for the Region.

Our goal was to update this extensively used resource to include the best available research and current management practices,” said Waldrop, Fire Ecology Team leader for the SRS Center for Forest Disturbance Science, who is retiring the end of this month. “The previous versions emphasized prescribed burning on the Coastal Plain. This version adds information on burning in grasslands and on steep terrain.”

The publication opens with an overview of the history and ecology of fire and reasons for using prescribed fire to manage forests and grasslands in the South, with an emphasis on environmental effects. Using numerous photographs and illustrations, the guide first introduces the reader to the weather and fuel condition choices key to controlling the fire and meeting the objectives of the burn.

Managers can choose weather conditions that will give them the fire intensity they want in relation to topography and fuel conditions,” said Goodrick. “We added information from the latest research on smoke modeling to help with more precise smoke management, which is of increasing importance as human populations expand into areas where prescribed burning is needed.”

Following chapters include detailed information on firing techniques, preparing and implementing a written plan, evaluating the burn, and setting up coordination. The guide features sample plans, checklists, single page overviews of general rules and red flag situations, a glossary, and an extensive bibliography of suggested readings, many new to this version of the guide.

Access the guide online.

For more information, email Tom Waldrop at

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