The Caucus Blog – Wildfire Safety and Controlled Burns

Wildfire Safety and Controlled Burns in Illinois

Periods of warm, dry, and windy weather can lead to the dangers of wildfires burning in Illinois. The Illinois Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) urges Illinois residents to become more vigilant and educated on wildfire safety so that incidents of fires can be prevented. In the last decade there have been instances of large fires at state park properties. 

IDNR suggests several safety tips to help prevent wildfires, including avoiding burning when winds are above 5 miles per hour and/or when the relative humidity is under 40 percent. Other safety tips include: burn in protected areas with no combustible materials within 10 feet around for small fires and 50 feet for larger fires; check the fire weather forecast before burning; avoid welding and grinding in areas with dry vegetation; avoid parking in areas with tall vegetation; campfires should be small, in protected areas, and burned during night time hours within fire grates; safely dispose of any lit cigarettes, cigars, or other smoking material; and have a bucket of water and shovel on hand to thoroughly drown out fire prior to leaving the area.

Illinois residents also have to be cognizant of wildfire smoke, which has become more commonplace in recent years. Wildfires burning out west or in Canada can bring a haze of smoky air to Illinois, and breathing in that smoke can pose health risks for some. Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particulate matter from burning vegetation and materials. 

Prescribed or controlled burns do occur in Illinois and serve several purposes. In the Shawnee National Forest, prescribed burns typically take place between the months of October and May. The objectives of each controlled burn may differ, but they all generally fall into one or more of the following categories: to stimulate growth of native vegetation, improve wildlife habitat, improve visual quality of the area, and reduce likelihood and severity of a wildfire. 

State Rep. Jeff Keicher (R-Sycamore) introduced legislation last spring which declared April 2023 as Prescribed Burning Awareness Month in Illinois. The House unanimously passed the resolution.

“Prescribed burning programs throughout our state play a valuable role in preserving our natural habitats,” Rep. Keicher stated. “This traditional method of land management not only provides ecological support, but also ensures long-term economic benefits.”

Native grasses and wildflowers are adapted to survive fires, with deep root systems that grow several feet underground. This allows these plants to flourish once again following a fire event, taking advantage of fresh nutrients in the soil. Prescribed fires can burn off invasive and unwanted plant species and allow native grasses and wildflowers to thrive.