Fire Management

Fire Management

Land Between the Lakes’ Fire Management program supports the National Recreation Area’s mission of protecting and managing resources for optimum yield of outdoor recreation and environmental education. Fire is a natural part of a healthy forest ecosystem and a valuable tool in helping create and maintain diverse habitats for a variety of plants and animals.

  • Before going hiking or camping, check the Alerts page for fire restrictions or area closures.
  • Plan ahead and prepare — know your route, and tell a responsible adult where you are going and when you plan to return.
  • Use alternatives to campfires during periods of high fire danger, even if there are no restrictions. Nine out of 10 fires are caused by humans.
  • If you do use a campfire, make sure it is fully extinguished before leaving the area — be sure it is cold to the touch.
  • If you are using a portable stove, make sure the area is clear of grasses and other debris that may catch fire. Prevent stoves from tipping and starting a fire.
  • Practice Leave No Trace principles — pack out cigarette butts and burned materials from your camping area.
  • Beware of sudden changes in the weather or changing weather conditions. For example, if you see a thunderstorm approaching, consider leaving the area. Fires started by lightning strikes are not unusual.
  • If you see smoke, fire, or suspicious activities, note the location as best you can and report it to authorities. Call 911 or Forest Service Law Enforcement at 877-861-2457.
  • Be careful of parking or driving your car or ATV in tall, dry, vegetation, such as grass. The hot underside of the vehicle can start a fire.

Don’t forget what Smokey Bear says: Only YOU can prevent wildfires! Remember: you are responsible for your safety and for the safety of those around you.

Firefighters light a prescribed burn

Prescribed Burning at Land Between the Lakes

Native Americans used fire to keep forest growth in check so there would be open land for cultivation and hunting. Fire also helps open up the forest floor for recreation such as hiking, biking, horseback riding, hunting, and wildlife viewing. In addition to conducting prescribed burns, our wildland firefighters also manage any wildfires.

A wildfire and a prescribed burn differ greatly. Wildfire, an unplanned event, can be very destructive to the forest and its inhabitants, including damaging the forest floor and preventing new growth. Prescribed fire is always planned, conducted by qualified personnel following predetermined weather parameters. Prescribed fire is closely managed. Fire managers utilize natural and existing barriers such as roads, trails, and streams that prevent  fire from spreading outside its intended boundary.

Prescribed fire has numerous purposes, including restoring the natural role of fire back on the landscape, reducing non-native and invasive tree and plant species, and reducing hazardous fuels. Conducting prescribed burns can also reduce the fuel load in a forest which decreases the chance of a wildfire occurring, and reduces the intensity, size, and destructive capability of a wildfire if one does occur. Land Between the Lakes protects, maintains, and enhances natural and cultural resources during each and every prescribed burn.

Researchers using dendrochronology, which is the dating of past events through the study of tree rings, discovered that fire had been suppressed at Land Between the Lakes for 80 years. Repressing fire in a fire adaptive ecosystem is problematic because several native tree species, including the shortleaf pine and several oak species, depend on fire to reproduce and survive.

In 2004 Land Between the Lakes began native oak grassland restoration to encourage a variety of  habitats for native plant and animal species. When we reintroduced wildfire into the Devil’s Backbone State Natural Area, the fire uncovered bare mineral soil on the forest floor. Soil like this enhances shortleaf pine regeneration and encourages the growth of all young trees.

Land Between the Lakes uses prescribed fire as a tool to meet specific Land and Resource Management Plan (Area Plan) goals and objectives. These include conducting an average of 10,000 total acres of prescribed burns annually.

The Area Plan outlines the primary strategies of fire management at Land Between the Lakes including ensuring firefighter and public safety, reducing hazardous fuels accumulation, educating the public about fire management, suppressing fires at minimum cost, using fire to promote ecosystem sustainability, and enabling fire to function in its natural ecological role.

If you would like to learn more about fire management at Land Between the Lakes, please contact [email protected].

Check out this video on prescribed fire from The Kentucky Prescribed Fire Council