Fighting Fire With Fire Found to be Effective in Reducing Wildfires

Prescribed fires bring the same ecological benefits as naturally occurring wildfires.
Donna Fuscaldo

With no end in sight to the devastating wildfires that ravaged Australia, researchers at Stanford University are testing new solutions and one that holds promise is to fight fire with fire.  

A team of researchers at Stanford University explained in a paper that was published in journal Nature Sustainability that prescribed burns in combination with thinning vegetation enables the fire to climb up the tree and reduce the risk of wildfires.


California needs prescribed burns on 20% of land area 

These prescribe fires rarely spread beyond the boundaries set for them and bring the same ecological benefits that naturally occurring fires do including reducing disease and insects in the forest.  

The researchers estimate that in California there needs to be prescribed burns or thinning vegetation on around 20 million acres, which amounts to about 20% of the land area in the state, in order to have an impact on reducing the wildfires. Over the years plans for prescribed burns have risen but half the acres that were supposed to be burned were not over concerns about smoky air, "outdated regulations" and limited resources, the researchers said in a press release announcing the results of their work.

“Prescribed burns are effective and safe,” said study co-author Chris Field, the Perry L. McCarty Director of the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies. “California needs to remove obstacles to their use so we can avoid more devastating wildfires.”

More needs to be done on the government level 

While California is taking steps to pick up the pace of prescribed fires the researchers argued more needs to be done and called for consistent funding for wildfire prevention, federal workforce rebuilding, and training programs to increase the number of prescribed burn crews and the establishment of standards for approving prescribed burns.  Their suggestions would require a multi-year commitment by both the executive and legislative branches of the government but would be well worth it if it reduced the number of wildfires. 

“As catastrophic climate impacts intensify, societies increasingly need to innovate to keep people safe,” said study co-author Katharine Mach, an associate professor at the University of Miami who was director of the Stanford Environment Assessment Facility and senior research scientist in the Stanford School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences at the time of the research. “Much of this innovation is conceptually simple: making sure the full portfolio of responses, prescribed burns and beyond, can be deployed.”

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