Before 1830, fire was as much a part of the landscape as other natural forces, such as droughts, floods, and insect infestations. Native Americans used fire to control flies and mosquitoes and to reduce ground cover for easier travel and hunting. Over time, native wildlife adapted and avoided the slow-burning fires, which left behind soils barely warm to the touch, and native flora developed thick bark or deep roots.
Since 1975, the District has used prescription burns to restore some of the functional qualities of the county’s natural ecosystem. Prescription burns eliminate or stunt nonnative woody and brushy vegetation, plants not adapted to fire. They burn off dead plant materials, which recycles nutrients back into the soil and prevents the accumulation of plant “litter,” which can lower soil temperatures and inhibit seed germination and plant growth.
Only specially trained District staff members who meet National Wildfire Coordinating Group standards participate in prescription burns. The morning of a burn, they carefully evaluate wind conditions, humidity, temperature and the amount of moisture in the vegetation. All fires are conducted with permits from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency and local fire departments. Local and adjacent fire and police departments and the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office are all in close communication during the process. In addition, the District sends letters in advance to residents who live next to designated sites and contacts those who respond with health concerns the morning of the burn.