Many Factors Determine if a Wildfire Should be Extinguished or ‘Let Burn’

June 24, 2021, 1:35 p.m. ·

Schacht and Erixson talk on separate Zoom calls
Erixson (left) and Schacht (right) talked about wildfires and controlled fires and how they're handled in Nebraska. (Photo by Aaron Bonderson)

It can be a difficult decision whether to let a wildfire burn or to suppress it. There are two types of wildfires, forest fires and grass fires, with forest fires being more intense.

John Erixson with the Nebraska Forest Service said most of Nebraska is made up of private grassland, with small areas of public grassland or forest.

“Well I think in Nebraska, generally speaking, we put out fires,” he said. “If you look back in history on managed wildfires or ‘let it burn’ policy, a lot of that focuses in on national forest where there’s a large number of acres together.”

Erixson said private land wildfires are often extinguished to preserve resources like grass for livestock. In Nebraska, public areas have private land close by, so fires are put out frequently on public land so they don’t spread to private property.

Walt Schacht with the Center for Grassland Studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said controlled or prescribed burns can be beneficial.

“Controlled or prescribed burning is used so that fire can be implemented as a tool to remove high amounts of dead plant material, to control or kill invasive species, and so forth.”

Red cedars are an invasive tree containing lots of oil that add fuel to future fires.

Overall, Schacht said it’s important to control fires on public or private land, in order to achieve goals.

Both Erixson and Schacht said every fire comes with unique circumstances. In places like California, wildfires are let burn more often in order to thin out the amount of trees.