Review of Laws and
Site Fire Management
Wildfire Planning
Prescribed Burn Plan
Measures and

The Prescribed Burn Plan is the most important document in the fire planning process. It is required for all burns, including those conducted by contractors. It is a field document that sets forth the details for conducting a particular burn treatment at a particular location. The Prescribed Burn Plan is much more specific than site fire management plans and details the prescription parameters and professional standards to be used in conducting the burn. A burn may be a Broadcast Burn covering many acres, or a Non-broadcast Burn of debris piles, old structures or agricultural ditches.

Any burn conducted on Conservancy property or led by a Conservancy Representative or contractor, even if in cooperation with another agency or entity, must have an approved Consequence Analysis (Blank Form). Conservancy employees should see the Conservancy's Intranet Fire Manual (Internal link, Planning- Section B) for further guidance.

Burn Plan Review and Approval

A burn plan is often prepared by the burn boss who will be conducting the burn, but may be prepared by others, such as a Fire Planner or contractor. In-depth familiarity with the area to be burned and information and standards presented in this manual are essential to successfully completing a burn plan.

All burn plans must be signed and dated by the preparer and by the designated Fire Manager before the burn is conducted. The signature of the Fire Manager conveys approval of the burn plan. Every burn boss must complete and sign a pre-burn Go/No-Go Checklist prior to igniting any approved burn.

The person who authors a burn plan cannot be the sole person to review it. If the Fire Manager is the author of the plan, it must receive a Technical Review by another burn boss familiar with the fuel type of the planned burn area. The technical reviewer does not have to be a Conservancy Representative; staff from other agencies is acceptable as long as they are qualified to lead burns similar to the one being planned. The technical reviewer must complete and sign the TNC Technical Reviewer Checklist, that must be attached to the burn plan. The Fire Manager is still the final approver for the plan.

How Long is a Prescribed Burn Plan in Effect?

An approved burn plan is in effect for five years, or until conditions stated within the plan have changed. The burn boss must review the Prescribed Burn Plan before each burn to verify that conditions have not changed. If there is any question about the need for an update to the burn plan, the burn boss will check with the Fire Manager prior to ignition.

Can a Prescribed Burn Plan be Modified in the Field?

All burns must be conducted according to the parameters outlined in the approved plan. In rare instances, there may be justification for minor modifications in the field on the day of the burn. The burn boss and the Fire Manager must come to an agreement in advance on what changes may be made to a burn plan on the day of burn and whether or not the Fire Manager needs to be consulted before making the changes.

All changes made to a plan by a burn boss must be documented and justified in writing either in the plan itself or on the pre-burn Go/No-Go Checklist. Under no circumstances should any changes be made the day of the burn that does not follow the Conservancy's fire management Requirements. Any changes made the day of the burn involving the Conservancy's fire management Guidelines will require the Fire Manager approval.

Where are Prescribed Burn Unit Plans Filed?

Copies of burn plans should be archived at the state or local level. A copy is also carried into the field during implementation of the burn.

Format of the Prescribed Burn Plan (Broadcast Burns)

The Conservancy has a Standard Prescribed Burn Plan template for broadcast burns. The format may be customized, but it must contain the following planning elements:

  • Signature Page
  • Description of burn area (geographic location, vegetation and fuels, narrative description of area to be burned)
  • Goals and objectives
  • Prescription (fuels, weather, timing or seasonality, narrative description of desired fire behavior)
  • Smoke Management
  • Personnel and Equipment (number and types, crew organization and PPE)
  • Pre-burn preparations (site prep, permits, notifications, weather forecasts)
  • Communications (on-site, sources of emergency assistance, public relations)
  • Safety and Medical
  • Ignition
  • Holding (procedures, mop-up standards, backup source of water supply)
  • Contingency (location and response time of emergency resources, secondary control lines, triggers for declaring escapes and associated crew assignments)
  • Monitoring (on-site weather, fire behavior and smoke)
  • Post-burn activities (ensure monitoring until burn area is out)
  • Attachment: Go/No Go Checklist (including: Go/No-Go, briefing, test fire and post-burn checks)
  • Attachment: Complexity Analysis
  • Attachment: TNC Documentation (Consequence Analysis, Review of Laws, TNC Fire Management Guideline exemptions and justifications, Conflict of Interest and Private Benefits screenings, landowners permissions and waivers)
  • Attachment: Maps
  • Attachment: Technical Reviewer Checklist (when required)

* Required for all broadcast burn plans after February 1, 2015. After this date, approved burn plans lacking a Complexity Analysis must have a Fire Manager approved complexity rating appended to the plan before burns are conducted. Complexity rating may be determined using either NWCG complexity analysis or a TNC complexity analysis.

The TNC Go/No Go Checklist is also available in fillable-form PDF Go/No Go Checklist

Contractors or public agency cooperators working for or with the Conservancy may have versions of Prescribed Burn Plans covering essentially the same information. Different formats and templates may satisfy this planning requirement provided they include the plan elements listed above.

The use of aviation resources, helicopters or other manned aircraft, on Conservancy burns must be included in the Prescribed Burn Plan. Note of resources will be made in the crew organizational chart or text, and in day-of-burn operations plan elements such as communications, ignition or monitoring. Potential use of aircraft should be taken into account in burn plan complexity and consequence analysis. Go/No Go checklists must be appended to include briefings for both ground and air safety (e.g. Interagency Aviation User Pocket Guide, NFES 1373).

Format of the Non-broadcast Burn Plan

Non-broadcast burning includes activities such as burning brush piles, old structures and spot burning invasives. A plan for such a burn may vary from a simple two-page form or Incident Action Plan to a more extensive plan. (See examples: simple plan and extensive plan.) The designated Fire Manager will determine what type of plan is necessary after considering the specific details of the situation. The format may be customized, but it must contain the following planning elements:

  • Signatures
  • Description of burn (geographic location, fuels to be burned)
  • Prescription (weather, timing or seasonality)
  • Smoke Management
  • Personnel and Equipment (number and types, and PPE)
  • Pre-burn preparations (site prep, permits, notifications, weather forecasts)
  • Communications (sources of emergency assistance)
  • Safety and Medical
  • Ignition
  • Holding (procedures and mop-up standards)
  • Contingency
  • Post-burn activities (ensure monitoring until burn area is out)
  • Attachment: Non-broadcast Burn Go/No-Go Checklist
  • Attachment: TNC Documentation* (Consequence Analysis, Review of Laws, TNC Fire Management Guideline exemptions and justifications, Conflict of Interest and Private Benefits screenings, landowners permissions and waivers)
  • Attachment: Technical Reviewer Checklist* (when required)

* These attachments are part of the plan approval process

It may be acceptable to write one Non-broadcast Burn Plan that covers multiple sites, or multiple burn areas on a site. The burn plan in such situations should include a map attachment.

What Are Minimum Qualifications Levels for Burn Leadership?

All Broadcast Burns must be supervised by a person qualified at or above the minimum qualifications level listed in the table below. The Fire Manager may require a higher qualifications level than indicated below for a specific burn. All burn plans will indicate the minimum required level of burn leader qualifications. Minimum qualifications level for a burn is determined by considering both Complexity and Consequence ratings:

TNC Burn Boss Levels

For Non-broadcast Burns, minimum qualifications level for a burn is determined by considering Consequence Analysis rating. Burns rated High Consequence must be supervised by a person qualified as Squad Boss (FFT1) or higher. Burns rated Not High must be supervised by a person qualified as Prescribed Burn Crew Member (RXCM) or higher.

How Are Burn Objectives Set and Met?

The process of meeting burn objectives involves identifying and applying the appropriate fire behavior to produce the desired effect while considering the feasibility of obtaining and managing such a fire.

The preparer should state burn objectives in a way that they can be objectively assessed. Burn objectives apply to a particular burn treatment. The burn objectives should be specific enough for the planner to determine what type of fire behavior is required to meet those objectives. Examples are: remove 70% or more of the surface litter; reduce shrubs from 80% canopy cover to a range of 20-40%; remove duff to expose mineral soil over 15-30% of the ground surface to provide suitable seed bed for certain species.

Once the objectives are clearly stated, the next step is an initial approximation of prescribed fire behavior. The challenge is to go from an objective such as "remove 70% or more of the surface litter" to the fire characteristics required to accomplish that objective. A start at this approximation might be, "A fire that will cover 70% or more of the surface area and consume virtually all surface litter." Predictive tools such as BehavePlus and nomograms can help answer questions such as: how dry must fuels be to burn readily, and what flame lengths and rate of spread might be associated with a fire that would consume them given certain fuel moisture conditions?

Prediction tools, however, are not a substitute for experience. In general, the best way to develop an approximation of what fire characteristics are needed to accomplish burn objectives is to talk to people experienced with fire effects and behavior in the community type to be burned. Published literature may also be helpful.

Next, consider the feasibility of producing the approximated fire behavior and managing a fire of this nature. Begin with an assessment of fuels on the site, and likely weather conditions during the season targeted for burning. Then estimate fire behavior under projected weather and fuel conditions using fire behavior prediction models and guides or other methods.

The process is complete when the Prescribed Burn Unit Plan is refined to a point where your objectives can be met given the probable fuel and weather conditions, and the fire can be safely conducted given various constraints.

Media Response Planning?

In some areas, Conservancy fire programs may decide to develop a media response plan in anticipation of an escaped prescribed burn. This document would designate one or two staff to interact with the media and include a basic framework for a response and a fact sheet on the preserve or site which could be distributed to media contacts.

Example: Albany Pine Bush Media Response Plan Back to the top.

Last updated November 6, 2020.

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