On the morning of March 2, 2022, a prescribed burn was initiated at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area (LLELA) in an effort to create, restore, and revitalize prairies below the Lewisville Dam. This fire was assumed to be controlled prior to noon, but due to weather condition changes, that fire escaped its intended area.
“I received a call from an employee at approximately 4:00pm that he noticed a large plume of smoke and Lewisville Fire Department responding,” said Nick Wilson, Lead Park Ranger at Lewisville Lake. “Our Ranger staff responded to provide access and traffic control to responding agencies and assisted with their knowledge of various roads, conditions, and hazards that would make the firefighter’s response safer.”
The fire was large and produced a significant amount of smoke as it burned through various habitats. Ranger Wilson recalled the smell of mesquite; he knew it meant mesquites may be dying off providing more nutrients and sunlight for native grasses and forbs.
LEWISVILLE, Texas (March 2, 2022) Firefighters and partner agencies battle a burning area of grassland below the Lewisville Lake Dam. A prescribed fire was initiated at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area at Lewisville Lake in an effort to create, restore, and revitalize prairies below the Lewisville Dam. This fire was assumed to be controlled prior to 12 p.m., but due to wind and weather condition changes, that fire escaped its intended area. Firefighters from Flower Mound, Frisco and several other surrounding cities responded to mutual aid requests with brush trucks to help contain and extinguish the blaze. The fire was out by 8 p.m. the same day. Photo by Nicholas Wilson.
“This burn not only released stored nutrients back into the soil, but reduced woody vegetation in the prairie, and reduced the fuel load that not only makes future fire more controllable, but makes it easier for native grasses to grow,” Ranger Wilson said. “Within weeks the amount of green in this prairie was greater than I had ever seen out of it and the benefits of this fire will be evident for several years through diversity and quality of the plant life it left.”
This fire, which turned out to be exactly what the prairie land below the Lewisville Dam needed, came on the eve of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Fort Worth District and Texas A&M Forest Service (TAMFS) signing a Memorandum of Understanding for Wildland Fire Management and Prescribed Burning at the 25 lake projects within the Fort Worth District. The MOU outlines coordination of wildland fire management and prescribed burning activities on federal lands administered by USACE with TAMFS and defines responsibility for both organizations.
A prescribed fire, also called prescribed burning or controlled burning, is form of land management in which fire is intentionally applied to vegetation. A scientific prescription for each fire, prepared in advance, describes its objectives, fuels, size, the precise environmental conditions under which it will burn, and conditions under which it may be suppressed.
Historically, natural and man-caused fires occurred frequently. Biologists now use fire to manipulate vegetation for the benefit of wildlife. A prescribed burning program, in conjunction with grazing deferment and deer harvest management, is an effective tool for managing wildlife habitat. These fires may be designed to create a mosaic of diverse habitats for plants and animals, to help endangered species recover, or to reduce fuels and thereby prevent a destructive fire.
Marty Underwood is the Trinity Region Environmental Stewardship Business Line Manager. Trinity Region includes Lewisville Lake, Ray Roberts Lake, Benbrook Lake, Bardwell Lake, Joe Pool Lake, Lavon Lake and Grapevine Lake. He says more frequent prescribed fires can stimulate prairies, especially in the native remnant prairies that are becoming much rarer in North Central Texas.
“Most, if not all, of Texas’ vegetative terrestrial ecoregions are fire dependent meaning some part of their lifecycle involves fire, whether it’s to burn back invasive woody vegetation and allow light and openings for grasslands or prairies to develop, clear out the understory in woodlands, stimulate herbaceous plant growth, stimulate seed germination, or to convert nutrients to more favorable forms that the plants can accept,” Marty said. “Fortunately, some of our USACE DFW area lakes still support this type of habitat including Lewisville Lake. Earlier this year USACE signed an MOU with the Texas A&M Forest Service to gain their assistance for the use of prescribed fire as a tool at all of our lakes throughout the district. Prescribed fires work very well when done right but if improperly executed, things can go very wrong quickly. With the Texas A&M Forest Service assistance and expertise, we can work with the public better and possibly make prescribed fire an accepted tool in urban areas when needed.”
LEWISVILLE, Texas (June 9, 2022) A view of grassland below the Lewisville Lake Dam showing growth three months after a wildfire March 2, 2022. A prescribed fire was initiated at the Lewisville Lake Environmental Learning Area at Lewisville Lake in an effort to create, restore, and revitalize prairies below the Lewisville Dam. This fire was assumed to be controlled prior to 12 p.m., but due to wind and weather condition changes, that fire escaped its intended area. Firefighters from Flower Mound, Frisco and several other surrounding cities responded to mutual aid requests with brush trucks to help contain and extinguish the blaze. The fire was out by 8 p.m. the same day. Photo by Nicholas Wilson
The ravenous danger, destruction and potential loss of life related to wildfires makes it such that any burning of wildlands could be viewed negatively; this is not always the case. Burning wildlands is a common occurrence, especially in areas prone to wildfires.
Rich Gray is the Chief Regional Fire Coordinator for TAMFS and has been with the organization for 25 years. Over the years, he has worked in a variety of fire management roles including prescribed burning, fuel reduction projects and suppression operations. He says the purposes of prescribed burns are many.
“Often times, prescribed burning is used to reduce hazardous wildland fuel loads, improve wildlife habitat, improve forage quality and quantity, reduce competing vegetation, restore and maintain healthy and resilient landscapes,” he said.
A prescribed fire is one of the most important tools used to manage wildfires and habitat today. But planning, like other potentially dangerous, but necessary, events such as this, is paramount.
“Land managers will set resource goals and objectives for a management unit,” Rich said. “If fire on the landscape is determined as the most appropriate management strategy, a specific prescribed burn plan will be developed to meet the management goals and implemented by a Prescribed Burn Boss. From this, burn managers will develop a plan to meet these objectives. It will include the amount of personnel and equipment needed to successfully prepare the burn unit, ignite, control, suppress and monitor the burn over the duration of the prescribed burn. Additionally, all phases of the planning and implementation require coordination and participation of cooperators as well as members of the public, media, and emergency management community.”
For prescribed fires initiated by the USACE staff at Lewisville Lake, Ranger Wilson is the Burn Boss. He says USACE is always working to improve in training and qualifications for prescribed fires. There are risks to employees, government assets, private property, and life, so being properly trained and physically fit enough to conduct burns is critical.
“Being that Lewisville is in an urban area it makes a few things easier and others much more difficult,” Ranger Wilson said. “Easier is partnerships and training. We have outstanding local fire departments that are well funded, well trained, and nearby to provide for quick response times. We also allow departments to train on our property when appropriate, whether it be swift water response, or time on a chain saw, we can typically accommodate most training opportunities. Urban areas become difficult in that fire can be viewed by residents as a bad or scary thing. Our Rangers, among other procedures and training, are trained for wildland firefighting. Part of this training includes understanding weather’s impacts to fire, how to prepare firebreaks, and techniques for suppressing fire in a safe manner.”
WYLIE, Texas (March 2, 2021) - Staff from Grapevine, Bardwell, Lavon, Lewisville Lakes conducted a 12-acre prescribed burn field training as part of the Wildland Firefighting Training at Lavon Lake. The effort was supported by the Plano Fire-Rescue and Josephine Volunteer Fire District. These burns play an important role in habitat management, and in this case, was utilized as a tool for removing excess fine fuels and trees from the heel of the dam. Photo by Steve Perrin.
There is an art and a science to using this powerful tool.
“If the conditions or personnel situations are not right, don’t light the fire,” Ranger Wilson said. “Also, reach out to your local agencies for appropriate notifications and invite them out to learn the area, plan a response, work together on trainings, and enjoy being outside and improving your habitat.”
Fires have been a natural part of the Texas landscape for a very long time, it is an agent of change necessary to keep our forests healthy and resilient. Prescribed fires help protect our communities for future generations to enjoy the beauty that surrounds us.
To learn more about types of prescribed fires, the benefits of prescribed fires, and the anatomy of a prescribed burn, visit www.goodfires.org.
To learn more about the Texas A&M Forest Service, visit https://tfsweb.tamu.edu/default.aspx.
Visit the Fort Worth District social media at: https://about.me/usacefortworth