Photo Anthony Rathbun

Prescribed Fire at the Houston Arboretum

Historically, fire helped shape the prairie and savanna ecosystems of the greater Houston area, creating healthy native habitat. The Arboretum is working with Houston Fire Department (HFD) and Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) to bring this important land management tool back to central Houston.

2023 Prescribed Fire

The Arboretum is working with HFD and TPWD to conduct a prescribed fire in the three acre Meadow area. This one-day burn will occur between February 6-28 and is weather-dependent.

Please check back for more details as the burn window approaches.

Past Fires

On March 24, 2022 the Arboretum conducted a prescribed fire in the Meadow. Wet conditions and an abundance of spring growth resulted in incomplete burn coverage.

On March 25, 2021 the Arboretum conducted a successful prescribed fire on seven acres of savanna habitat in the northwest corner of the site.

The Arboretum’s first prescribed fire occurred in late 1999 with the help of Houston Fire Department and Armand Bayou Nature Center, and resulted in a beautiful fall wildflower season.

What is a prescribed fire?

A prescribed fire is a carefully planned and executed intentional fire. When planning a prescribed fire, public safety, weather patterns, and the surrounding environment are all taken into account.

What are the benefits of a prescribed fire?

Prescribed fires have many benefits and can be used in a variety of ecosystems. This particular prescribed fire will:

  • Decrease the threat of destructive wildfires during dry periods
  • Return nutrients to the soil
  • Reduce invasive and woody species that seek to encroach upon our native prairie and savanna ecosystems without the use of herbicide
  • Create new openings for native grasses and wildflowers to sprout
  • Increase the biodiversity of the Arboretum’s ecosystems
  • Provide environmental education opportunities

When will the Houston Arboretum be conducting a prescribed fire?

The current prescribed fire will be conducted between February 6-28, 2023, weather permitting. If adequate weather conditions are not met the morning of the fire, the burn will be rescheduled.

Who will be conducting the prescribed fire at the Arboretum?

Houston Arboretum & Nature Center conservation staff will work with Houston Fire Department’s (HFD) highly trained and certified wildland firefighters to conduct the burn. Texas Parks and Wildlife’s (TPWD) State Fire Program Leader will also be on site with TPWD Wildland Fire Management Program staff.

What are the safety precautions in effect?

In order to conduct the prescribed fire, a Burn Plan was put together by the Arboretum, HFD, and TPWD. It identifies the necessary weather and environmental conditions that must be met for a safe prescribed fire. It also outlines contingencies to protect nearby properties.

Prior to the burn, HFD will canvass adjacent neighborhoods with information, and the Arboretum will have signage on-site and literature available online.

During the prescribed fire, the impacted area will be closed to visitors. HFD will coordinate with Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Houston Health Department to monitor air quality, and signs will be posted along nearby roadways indicating that there is a prescribed fire ahead.

What should you expect the day of the prescribed fire?

The day of the prescribed fire, you may see smoke in the area of the Arboretum or on nearby roadways. You may also see HFD and Houston Police Department vehicles in the area. If you see smoke on the roadways, please reduce your speed, use headlights, pay attention to posted reduced speed limits, and refrain from calling 911.

What should you expect after the prescribed fire?

The fire itself will only last for a few hours, however some smoldering may occur in the days following the burn. This is normal and all smoldering areas will be monitored by staff. After the fire, much of the area will appear blackened. Within a few weeks of the burn, visitors can expect to see an abundance of lush green growth sprouting from the blackened area.

Visit the Texas Parks & Wildlife Wildland Fire Management website to learn more about how prescribed fires are planned and conducted.