Study: prescribed fire, other low-intensity burns, can substantially decrease likelihood of destructive blazes
A new study finds prescribed fires can significantly reduce the risk of high intensity blazes for a number of years.
Researchers looked at 20 years of satellite images across nearly 50,000 square miles of California forest. They used them to determine the effect of low-intensity burns, including prescribed fires.
“Low-intensity fires can reduce future high-intensity wildfire risk by more than 60% for the first years,” said Columbia University biostatistics assistant professor Xiao Wu, the paper’s lead author.
While that protection diminishes over time, it lasts up to six years, he said. That’s why the paper recommends thinking of prescribed fire as “periodic maintenance rather than a one-time intervention for forests that are adjacent to communities or critical infrastructure.”
Wu says the methodology could be used across the West, where he expects broadly similar results would be found.
He acknowledges that prescribed fires are not without risks. They emit potentially hazardous smoke and – while rare – can escape containment.
Wu said his paper’s findings will allow officials and the public to better weigh the risks and benefits of putting fire on the ground.
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