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Prescribed burning season approaches

Photo for: Prescribed burning season approaches

Photo by Glenn P. Knoblock

Prescribed burning activities are about to begin in the Forest Preserve District.

Postcards were mailed recently to residents who live within 250 feet of forest preserves that will be included in the program. The postcards advise people to call the District if they have health issues involving smoke. Those who call are asked if they want to be placed in a Red Flag system to be called the day before and/or morning of the burn and advised of the pending fire.

Schools, medical facilities, airports and smoke sensitive buildings in the vicinity of the burn are also called as part of the Red Flag system and advised to take precautions, such as adjusting HVAC systems to recirculate internal air on the day of the burn.

Reverse 911 calls will be made to people who live within a half mile of a preserve the night before a burn is scheduled to take place. However, calls will only go to a landline unless a person registers a cell phone number with the Will County Emergency Management Agency's Emergency Notification System.

Fire and police departments and dispatch centers also are notified of prescribed burn activities in advance of a controlled burn. Once all of the alerts have gone out, prescribed burns will begin if the weather isn't too windy or wet for the burn to take place.

Prescribed burning is a way of mimicking the fires that used to occur naturally through lightning strikes or were set by Native Americans and early settlers. Once the region grew to be more inhabited, fire was suppressed and invasive and woody species were allowed to get a toehold on the land.


As the Forest Preserve District works to restore more and more acreage, prescribed or controlled burning is one of the best ways to keep the land free of invasive species and woody plants. The heat of the fire destroys the unwanted plants or trees and lets the native species – which can handle the heat because their roots go deep – to survive and thrive.

The controlled burn season spans mid-October to mid-April when most vegetation and many animals are dormant. When burning takes place, not all areas of a preserve are included so animals have a path to flee.

Here are some of the benefits of a prescribed burn:

  • It can control tree and shrub growth along the embankment of a flood control reservoir where the roots systems can threaten structural integrity.
  • The disturbance created by periodic fires is important in maintaining remnant oak/hickory forests and savannas because it prevents uncommon trees from overtaking the landscape.
  • Fire encourages the better establishment of native vegetation, which slowly displaces weeds.
  • Controlled burning returns nutrients to the soil.


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