San Diego

Environmentalists Say Prescribed Burning is Doing More Harm Than Good

Prescribed burning has been a technique used to prevent fires for decades. But some scientists say their findings prove it only does damage.

Some environmentalists are asking Cal Fire to stop clearing wildland with prescribed burns, claiming the long-term effects can cause more damage than good.

Richard Halsey, a biologist with the California Chaparral Institute, said he has found that prescribed burning is not saving homes and it's doing a lot of damage.

"Prescribed burning only increases the flammability of the landscape," said Halsey.

Halsey says that non-native weeds grow after a prescribed burn and catch fire quickly.

"What you've got is a dozen -- thousand matches, just waiting to ignite," explained Halsey.

But that's not Halsey's only concern.

"You're adding carbon to the atmosphere. We don't need to add more carbon into the air by artificially burning things that don't need to burn," said Halsey. "It's not going to protect communities from 5 percent of the fires that do all the damage and those are the wind-driven fires."

But prescribed burns have been used to prevent fires as long as Cal Fire Captain Issac Sanchez remembers.

"It's the best way to keep homes safe," said Sanchez.

He says it's done in the winter and is the most efficient way to cover more acreage.

Sanchez said the process involves slow-burning with low heat to protect surrounding native plants.

Sanchez said vegetation removal projects are ongoing, all year long.

"If we don't treat and a large destructive fire comes along, that's a high-intensity fire that wipes out everything, including native vegetation. So if I had my choice, I believe the agency would prefer a low-intensity fire that is under our terms opposed to a large destructive fire," explained Sanchez.

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