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Glacier National Park Wildland Fire Management

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blue bulletFire in Glacier National Park

blue bulletGlacier and Flathead National Forest fire page

blue bulletVideo Gallery of the 2003 fires

blue bulletPhoto Gallery of the 2003 fires

blue bulletA Fire Ecosystem

blue bulletWildland Urban Interface

blue bulletPast Fires in Glacier National Park


Working With Fire: a look at Fire Management
Fire can pose a serious threat to human life and property. In Glacier, as in other National Park, some fires will be always be suppressed (put out). These conditions include a fire burning too near developed areas, a fire started when weather conditions could lead to major fire growth, or when fire activity is intense nationwide and there are limited national fire fighting resources the park could call on for assistance. Any human-cased fire will be suppressed, as will any fire that poses a serious risk of burning outside of the park.

Some fires, started by nature's lightning, are closely monitored and allowed to burn within limits. These are called Wildland Fire-Use Fires. This term is used by fire managers to describe naturally ignited, lightning-caused fires, which are carefully monitored within predetermined areas in order to benefit park resources to the maximum extent possible. While allowing fire as a natural process to continue is highly desirable, firefighter and public safety and the protection of the park's historic structures and other sensitive resources are of the highest priority for all fires.

Under certain conditions, fire fighters plan, start and monitor fires that will benefit the ecosystem. These intentional fires are called Prescribed Natural Fires or Prescribed Burns, and are allowed to burn within the limits laid out in detailed plans specific to an area.
When fire managers look at implementing a plan, they do their best to make sure the conditions are right to meet the goals of the plan. Some of the factors considered are the following: Weather forecast, relative humidity, temperature, wind speed, wind direction, moisture of the vegetation and anticipated fire behavior.

Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools used to manage fire today. A scientific prescription for the fire, prepared in advance, describes its objectives, fuels, size, and the precise environmental conditions under which it will burn. If the fire moves outside the predetermined area, the fire will be suppressed. The fire may be designed to create a mosaic of diverse habitats for plants and animals, to help an endangered species recover, or to reduce fuels and thereby prevent a destructive fire. Burning some areas in advance, thereby removing fuels from the path of a future unwanted fire, can protect specific buildings, cultural resources, critical natural resources, and habitat.

By counting tree rings or by looking at ash layers in soil, Forest Ecologists have studied how frequently fires burned historically in the different vegetation types. They have learned that grassy areas, for example, burned very frequently historically- as frequently as once every 18-25 years. They have also learned that long needled pine forests, like Ponderosa Pine burned every 20 years or so. These short fire returns, however, are the exception and most of Glaciers forested areas burn once every 80-250 years. With this knowledge, managers can examine different areas to see how long it has been since a fire burned there. If it is determined that it has been too long since fire visited an area, and, if fire can be used safely, fire managers may write a plan for a prescribed burn.

Currently we have plans for several prescribed burns in the park. Some examples of prescribed burns and goals include:
Igniting fires in Big Prairie in the North Fork to reduce conifers that are taking over the prairie, and to reintroduce fire on a 20-25 year cycle, just as Native American's have been doing there for centuries.

Burning research plots in Whitebark Pine habitat to determine if fire will help restore trees that have been decimated by the Blister Rust fungus.

Igniting controlled burns along the park boundary or developed areas to reduce fuels and prevent unwanted wildfires from threatening structures or leaving the park.

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