© 2023 Boise State Public Radio
NPR in Idaho
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
A movie night with George Prentice event details
A regional collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain States of Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Study: prescribed fire, other low-intensity burns, can substantially decrease likelihood of destructive blazes

A firefighter lights fire with a drip torch during a 2022 prescribed burn on the Payette National Forest
A firefighter lights fire with a drip torch during a 2022 prescribed burn on the Payette National Forest.

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.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Hey everyone! I’m Murphy Woodhouse, Boise State Public Radio’s Mountain West News Bureau reporter.

You make stories like this possible.

The biggest portion of Boise State Public Radio's funding comes from readers like you who value fact-based journalism and trustworthy information.

Your donation today helps make our local reporting free for our entire community.