According to the USDA Forest Service, a controlled burn (also referred to as a prescribed burn) is “any fire intentionally ignited to meet specific land management objectives such as to reduce flammable fuels, restore ecosystem health, recycle nutrients, or prepare an area for new trees or vegetation.” Likewise, the Naperville Park District uses spring and fall controlled ground-level burns as an effective tool to clear the ground of invasive weeds and reduce the amount of leaf and plant debris on the ground with the goal of returning nutrients to the soil and trigger germination of native plants that depend on fire as part of their natural lifecycle. The Park District has a maintenance plan for its parks and specifically a maintenance schedule for each park and natural area across the District. This schedule includes intervals of controlled burns along with other maintenance initiatives.
History of Controlled Burns
In Illinois’ early history, prairie fires occurred regularly with lightning strikes and the deep-rooted native prairie plants evolved to withstand fire. Today, trained crews supervise a tightly controlled process that is pre-approved through the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) and Naperville Fire Department.
Park District parks staff are responsible for the safe and effective management of controlled burns. Certification from the State of Illinois requires specific training and experience as established in the Illinois Prescribed Burn Act.
Naperville Park District must obtain an Open Burn Permit from the IEPA in addition to a permit from the Naperville Fire Department.
When Do Controlled Burns Take Place?
Although the spring and fall seasons are optimal for conducting controlled burns, the actual timing depends on several variables including:
- Ground temperature following snow melt; the ground needs to be sufficiently warm, but the grass must remain dormant for the burn to be successful
- Weather conditions must be favorable with low wind velocity and wind direction specific to burn site
- Low chance of precipitation
These parameters result in a limited number of controlled burns that are able to take place each season.
Learn more about the process of controlled burns and their importance: