climate in crisis

Fighting Fire With Fire: How Controlled Burns Help Protect Property

Recent wildfires have prompted some to view fire as a helpful tool

NBC Universal, Inc.

With a severe wildfire season projected, some landowners are using controlled burns to protect their properties.

Phillip Dye, CEO of Prometheus Fire Consulting in San Jose, said the number of people contacting him to do controlled burns has doubled compared to last year.

"In the Bay Area, most of my requests are for private landowners," Dye said.

Dye said some people are re-examining the benefits of fire in actually protecting their properties after seeing the destruction caused by wildfires last year.

"By doing low intensity under burning underneath the trees, we remove that understory, that brush, that scrub, so that when fires do enter the forest, they stay on the ground," Dye said. "They're much easier to contain."

Dye helps people safely conduct prescribed burns by obtaining burn and air quality permits and determining the safest time to burn based on temperature, wind and other factors. He also establishes a burn contingency plan just in case a fire gets out of control, which he said is extremely rare.

"In reality, far less than 1% of prescribed fires actually escape containment," he said.

Cal Fire said controlled burns should only be done in the winter and spring with the required permits.

"We think it's great as long as it's done safely," said Pam Temmermand, a fire prevention specialist with Cal Fire.

Every year in the Bay Area, Cal Fire conducts dozens of controlled burns, including at Grant County Park in Santa Clara County.

"I think it really helps to reduce the incident of fire up there," Temmermand said.

Prescribed burns are also used in forests throughout California to help prevent massive wildfires.

Jamie Ervin with the Sierra Forest Legacy said years of fire suppression may have actually increased the risks of a major wildfire.

"We have suppressed wildfire for over 100 years now," he said. "We’ve removed indigenous burning practices that were here before white settlers arrived and before the gold rush, and so our forests are not natural and they are prone to high severity wildfires."

Contact Us