Northeast Fire Program
Northeast Region

Northeast Fire Program

What comes to mind when you hear the word “fire”? Danger…excitement…comfort…power? Under the right conditions, fire can be useful, enjoyable and even necessary for survival. At the wrong time and place, however, it can be destructive and life threatening.

In the US Fish and Wildlife Service Northeast Region, we use fire as a friend to manage and create important wildlife habitats and reduce the risk of wildfires, and fight it as a foe when it threatens life and safety. This website introduces you to the benefits of fire on public lands, teaches you how to protect your property from fire, and provides you with several sources of fire information. Enjoy your visit!

Types of Fire

Sources of fires on US Fish and Wildlife Service lands in the Northeast Region are controlled burns and wildfires. Controlled burns, also called “prescribed fires” are intentionally set by trained personnel to reduce the risk of wildfire and manage wildlife habitat and invasive species. Wildfires are started naturally by lightning or by people. “Wildland fire” refers to both controlled burns and wildfires.

Firefighters light the first controlled burn to benefit grasslands and reduce wildfire hazard at the National Conservation Training Center in Shepherdstown, West Virginia.
Credit: Gerald Vickers/USFWS

Controlled Burns

We use controlled burns to eliminate excess live and dead plants in an area that make it more prone to wildfire. By reducing the vegetation, the risk of wildfire is reduced, making an area safer. Controlled burns also benefit plants and wildlife by returning nutrients to the soil quickly, and killing some invasive plant species. But how can starting fires be safe? A controlled burn is a carefully planned and executed event. Long before we strike a match, highly qualified fire teams complete a burn plan outlining the areas to be burned. They make fire breaks to prevent an escaped fire and carefully choose days when weather conditions help control the flames while still allowing an effective burn. Air temperature, humidity, wind speed and direction, and vegetation moisture must all be within safe limits. If the conditions are not right, the fire is not set! We will reschedule the burn for a better day or use other methods to improve the habitat.

We have been doing controlled burning safely, cost-effectively, and regularly on a landscape-scale since the 1930s.View a video about controlled burning on National Wildlife Refuges.

Controlled Burn
Controlled burn at Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Maryland to control common reed, an invasive plant
Credit: Tom MacKenzie/USFWS

For information on how controlled burns protect your safety, see Fire and You. For information on what to do if a controlled burn is in your area, see I See Smoke!

Please download our
Fire Management in the Northeast

Fire Brochure

Adobe Acrobat Reader
Required to read this document

Fire Partnerships

In fire management, partnerships are key! Success depends on partnerships we have with local, state, and federal governments, as well as organizations like The Nature Conservancy.

Fire managers work closely with partners to share equipment and personnel. They also rely upon them for expertise and help in managing lands for habitat, reducing the risk of wildfire, and responding to wildfires. Partners also spread awareness and fire education to communities.

When it comes to fire, all work together to ensure the health and safety of communities, firefighters, wildlife, and habitat.

Controlled burn at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia.
Controlled burn at Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia
Credit: Rebecca Wilson/USFWS
This island burn at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia was lit by helicopter.
This island burn at Back Bay National Wildlife Refuge in Virginia was lit by helicopter
Credit: Rebecca Wilson/USFWS
Last updated: February 27, 2013