NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Fighting Fire with Fire

July 23, 2003

Carefully logging and burning certain plots of forest land can prevent the spread of destructive forest fires, say researchers from the Forest Service and the Wildlife Conservation Society.

As proof, the agencies cite the Cone Fire (September 2002) that burned only 1,600 acres of the 10,000-acre Blacks Mountain Experimental Forest in Northern California.

  • The fire started in an area with dense vegetation and quickly moved to a plot that had been thinned, which it scorched before dying out.
  • Upon reaching a plot that had been selectively thinned and burned, the fire did not penetrate the area at all.
  • In another thinned area, the fire burned but reduced in intensity, making it easier to extinguish.

Removing the largest trees and the stumps of smaller trees was particularly crucial to preventing the spread of fires, as underbrush, fallen limbs and dry needles can provide sufficient fuel to cause major fire damage, say researchers.

Although prescribed burns are fairly common in forest management policy, they are also controversial among environmental activists. The Blacks Mountain Research Project, however, added credence to the idea that cutting down certain trees and selectively burning small plots of forest can reduce the damage of natural forest fires.

Source: James Gorman, "How a Forest Stopped a Fire in Its Tracks," New York Times, July 22, 2003.


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