AUSTIN (KXAN) – Fire plays an important role in our ecosystem, from shaping the landscape to building more resilient ecological communities.

Austin Water’s Wildland Conservation Division is one of many agencies involved in the planning and execution of local prescribed burns.

These controlled burns are seen as “as a great tool to remove accumulations of dead vegetation or even thatch in these grasslands” says Matt Lore, Environmental Program Coordinator with Austin Watershed Protection.

Prescribed burns can also help improve water quality as a result of less soil loss, and boost biodiversity within an ecosystem.

Take for example, the monarch butterfly.

“This really wonderful creature that people have come to appreciate here is now on the brink of being threatened or endangered” says Kevin Thuesen, the Environmental Conservational Program Manager with Austin Water’s Water Quality Protection Lands. “We found one of the plants they rely on milkweed really benefits from prescribed fire.”

These prescribed burns are planned months, and more typically, years in advance.

And while able to burn most times of the year, winter and summer tend to be the most common windows for burning as springtime grasses and live growth can reduce the fire’s efficiency to move.

Weather thresholds are also put in place for safety, with a hard stop issued for winds above 23 mph.

In advance of a burn day, research is done on surrounding communities to identify vulnerable populations and places, like schools and hospitals, that may be impacted by smoke.

Lore highlights public interest and safety as a priority when planning prescribed burns. “We put so much planning, and thought and care into this operation. We’re working really hard to take that trust and manage it, and to be good stewards of that trust.”