Rhode Island DEM Plans Controlled Burns Ahead of Spring Fire Season to Reduce Risk of Unplanned Wildfires

The Rhode Island DEM has announced its intent to conduct low-severity prescribed burns on state lands across various locations, including Prudence Island, and in Exeter, West Greenwich, Coventry, Richmond, and South Kingstown. The controlled burns are scheduled to take place from late winter to early spring as part of DEM’s Forest Fire Program’s prescribed fire season.

Prescribed burns, carefully planned and executed, serve as a versatile tool for natural resource managers in maintaining habitat diversity and preventing extreme fires by reducing hazardous natural fuels. DEM emphasizes that the burns will only be conducted based on weather and wind conditions, and the agency plans to provide the public with timely updates several days before the operations commence. Notifications will be disseminated through social media posts and flyers distributed to adjacent landowners and neighbors.

A “burn window” is crucial for ensuring that environmental variables such as fuel moisture and weather conditions are conducive to the fire meeting its goals, including fuel reduction, wildlife habitat modification, and ecological restoration, all while remaining under control. The decision to proceed with a burn will depend on factors such as wind speed and direction to optimize smoke dispersal.

DEM’s Forest Fire Program Manager, Pat MacMeekin, highlighted the agency’s commitment to building upon the success of previous prescribed fire projects, aiming to apply treatments to over 50 acres of fire-adapted ecosystems on DEM-managed lands. MacMeekin emphasized that the repeated implementation of prescribed fire treatments is essential for fully restoring fire-adapted ecosystems.

After a busy wildfire season in 2023, with 78 recorded wildfires covering 582 acres, DEM is proactively responding to the increased threat of wildfires in Southern New England due to climate change. The agency plans to use low-severity prescribed burns to reduce combustible materials and offer specialized wildfire training to build staff and volunteer capacity. This aligns Rhode Island’s land management policies and practices with neighboring states, contributing to climate change resilience in the region.

Expert teams from DEM’s Forest Fire Program, operating under the Division of Agriculture and Forest Environment, will lead the prescribed burns. The agency has developed detailed operational and safety plans, including prescribed burn plans, firebreaks, and other site preparations. Abutting landowners have been informed of fire dates, reasons, and expectations for the burn season, and DEM has obtained the necessary permits and exemptions to ensure safe and controlled burns.




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