Why are Fires Important?
Fires play an important role in the natural changes that occur in Earth's ecosystems. The diversity of plant and animal life in the world's forests, prairies, and wetlands is (partly) dependent on the effects of fire; in fact, some plants cannot reproduce without fire (fire breaks open the outside coating of some seeds and stimulates germination). What may at first look like total devastation soon becomes a panorama of new life. Fire initiates critical natural processes by breaking down organic matter into soil nutrients. Rain then moves these nutrients back into the soil providing a rejuvenated fertile seedbed for plants. With less competition and more sunlight, seedlings grow more quickly.
Wild animals deal with fire remarkably well. Birds fly out of the fire area, large animals leave the danger zone by escaping to ponds and streams, while others return to their burrows. Usually few animals are killed by fire.
Prescribed fire is one of the most important tools used today to manage Earth's diverse ecosystems. A scientific prescription, prescribed fires help create a mosaic of diverse habitats for plants and animals. If all fire is suppressed, fuel (grasses, needles, leaves, brush, and fallen trees) can build up and allow larger, and sometimes uncontrollable, fires to occur. If enough fuel builds up, the fires could be so intense that they may destroy the seeds in the soil and hinder new tree and plant growth. By burning away accumulated fuels, planned fires make landscapes safer for future natural fires.
State of the Science
Global Fire Monitoring