Topics > Fire management

What are prescribed burns?

Prescribed burning is the planned use of fire to a particular area in the landscape.

Prescribed, controlled and planned burns are the same thing. In South Australia, they are referred to as prescribed burns because they follow a ‘prescription’ with a number of conditions that need to be met: fuel load; fuel moisture; temperature; relative humidity; and wind direction and speed. Along with the site's slope, these determine the intensity and speed at which a site will burn.

Take a look at this map to find any upcoming prescribed burns near you.

The story of prescribed burning

Why are prescribed fires good?

Prescribed fires on public or private land are just one tool used as part of the NPWS fire management program to reduce fine fuels across the landscape, manage native vegetation and protect biodiversity in South Australia's parks and reserves.

Reducing fuel hazards is important as it can reduce the speed and intensity of bushfires which makes them easier to control, provides a safer environment for firefighters, and ultimately saves lives and property.

Along with reducing bushfire risk, prescribed burning is also used for ecological reasons such as:

  • protecting and maintaining animal habitats (some native animal species prefer regenerating vegetation after fire; others like long unburnt habitat - prescribed burns manage the landscape so there’s a mix of habitat for all species)
  • regenerating plant species and communities that rely on fire (many native plants rely on fire for regeneration, as a result they grow quickly after fire from germinating seed or re-sprouting buds under their bark or roots)
  • improving biodiversity within parks and reserves.

Did you know?

  • The NPWS Prescribed Burn Program is dynamic and flexible to allow burns to be scheduled on short notice when the conditions are right. It also means deferring some burns to the next season or year to make sure we get the right result.
  • Most prescribed burns focus on risk reduction and are deemed successful if this objective is met, irrespective of the number of hectares burnt.
  • Prescribed burns are part of a rolling program which aims to complete around 70% of proposed burns each year. Having more burns to choose from allows for operational flexibility to make the most of conditions and resources available. See challenges below for details
  • A significant amount of other bushfire mitigation activities such as slashing, weed control and fire track maintenance are carried out each year to reduce bushfire risk on public land.

Challenges to completing a prescribed burn


Every region has a short window of suitable conditions each season where burns can be safely and effectively completed. When conditions are too wet, or vegetation is too patchy the fire will not carry, if it’s too dry there is a risk of a burn escaping or causing environmental damage. On top of this every burn has specific requirements such as wind direction and speed, which have to be considered when scheduling burns.


To avoid the risk of smoke taint impacting wine grapes, NPWS liaises with the wine industry and monitors wind conditions and may delay burns so as not to affect grape quality.

Smoke exposure can also affect people and some primary production. Find out more about smoke management.


If a region is impacted by a bushfire, prescribed burns will often be withdrawn if the planned location is where the bushfire occurred, or it may be cancelled to ensure there is nearby habitat for wildlife to find refuge in until their preferred area has regenerated.

Please contact CFS for current bushfire information or call the hotline on 1800 362 361.

To report an emergency dial 000.