Fire as a Tool

Fire has been used as a forest management tool in Oregon for thousands of years. Native Americans set fires to manage food supplies, stimulate grass production to attract big game, and to keep travel ways open. Early settlers utilized fire to make way for development. Today, woodland owners can use prescribed fire as a tool to control unwanted vegetation and reduce forest fuels on their forests.

Prescribed Burning

Prescribed burning is the controlled use of fire to achieve specific forest and resource management objecitives. Such burns typically take the form of slash burning after a timber harvest. With proper planning, “broadcast burns” are set across an entire harvest unit, usually a clearcut. Ridding a logging unit of slash reduces fuels that could later feed a wildfire, and also facilitates planting after harvest.

Broadcast burns aid reforestation by removing unwanted vegetation, too. Some brush species sprout back after a fire, but the setback from burning can help give your planted seedlings a head start.

Burning Slash Piles

Slash may also be piled and burned on logging landings and within your logging unit. Pile burns are generally “safer” than broadcast burns, since the areas to be burned are targeted and the resulting fire easier to control. That said, all fires set in the wood are inherently risky, and should be undertaken only after proper planning and consultation with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Fire may also be directed at areas of unwanted vegetation such as blackberry clumps. Such burns are often conducted after treatment with herbicides to dry the weedy fuels for burning and provide longer-term control.


Understory burning, or “underburning,” can be used to mimic the effect of natural fires on the landscape. The primary objective of underburning is usually fues reduction, but it is also used to achieve other objectives such as tree density control, wildlife habitat improvement, and control of unwanted vegetation.

The strategy behind understory burning for fuels reduction is to use an occasional light burn to remove debris on the forest floor to reduce the intensity of any future fires. Prescribed underburning has become more common as the understanding of the ecological role of fire has increased. However, understory burns are especially risky, as the overstory forest targeted for protection with the underburn is also susceptible to damage.

Prior to initiating any prescribed burn, contact your local Oregon Department of Forestry office. They will assist you with the appropriate planning for a burn, and will also work with you on a burn permit when required. If you are within the city limits, call your local fire department to find out if any additional restrictions apply.

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