“Only you can prevent forest fires.” This saying was made famous by Smokey the Bear, the U.S. Forest Service’s forest ranger hat-wearing symbol for fire safety. A careless match or untended campfire is a disaster that could potentially become a wildfire. However, there’s one thing you might not realize - sometimes it’s better to let forests burn.
Small fires have been a part of the natural world for millions of years. But in recent years, huge, uncontrolled wildfires have burned too many acres of land. Fires in wild areas do need to occur, because they prevent buildup of dead brush and saplings. When forests haven’t burned in a long time, the dry kindling accumulates into “a firebomb waiting to go off.”
To prevent massive, widespread wildfires, scientists set controlled burns, fires that are deliberately set to imitate nature. The U.S. Forest Service uses controlled burns on windless, humid days to clear away excess wood. They hope to control burn a million acres a year by 2015 (about 2,000 square miles).
In the future, controlled burns and more effective equipment will help put fires out faster.