Prescribed Fire Explained

icon prescribed burn

A prescribed fire is a fire that is intentionally ignited under a strict set of weather and site conditions to accomplish a specific resource management or ecological objective.

Reason for Prescribed Fire

Fire is a natural ecosystem process. Naturally occurring fires have played a critical role in shaping much of the natural landscape of Michigan. State Parks preserve Michigan's natural heritage, including many significant natural areas that are fire dependent. Fire is important in prairies, savannas, oak woodlands, pine forests, and even many wetlands. Our native plants and animals are adapted to co-exist with fire, and even depend on it for survival. Fire helps set back encroaching shrubs and trees, stimulates native plants, and fertilizes the soil with ash.

Prior to widespread European settlement in Michigan, fires were commonly ignited by Native Americans or by lightening strikes. Because fires have been suppressed in our landscape for over 200 years for protection of homes, cities, and crops, Michigan's prairies, savannas, and other fire-dependant ecosystems are quickly disappearing.  Prescribed burning has occurred in Michigan State Parks since 1990.  Most prescribed fires are conducted in spring (mid-March - early May) or fall (November). Marsh burns are sometimes conducted in winter. 

Prepare the Site

Prospective sites are evaluated each year by an ecologist. The ecologist prepares an ecological prescription (plan) for the site. The burn plan is essentially the "prescription" for how to conduct the burn safely while accomplishing the management objectives.


Prescribed fires are coordinated and monitored by trained fire officers of the DNR's Forest Resources Division, the same fire officers trained to fight wildland fires.   

After the Prescribed Fire

Animal habitat is improved. Burned areas generally "green up" very quickly, often in as little as a week or two. Sunlight warms the dark ash-covered soil, creating an ideal environment for plant growth.

Related Resources

Michigan Prescribed Fire Council