Liability and the Use of Prescribed Fire in the Southern Plains, USA: A Survey of District Court Judges Academic Article uri icon


  • Suppression of historical fire regimes has changed the composition and structure of many fire-dependent ecosystems, frequently resulting in decreased grazing productivity and biodiversity in grasslands and savannas. Land managers have attempted to reverse these trends through the application of prescribed fire, but regulations and liability concerns often deter them. District court judges play a key role in defining the legal context of prescribed burning by interpreting applicable statutes in personal injury or property damage cases resulting from escaped prescribed fire. However, information about the way judges interpret open burning statutes and regulations is difficult to obtain. We conducted a mail survey of district court judges in Texas and Oklahoma, USA to shed light on decisions judges might make presiding over an escaped fire case. The survey included questions regarding their perception of prescribed fire, their understanding of the laws affecting prescribed burning, and hypothetical questions to determine how they would apply relevant law in an escaped fire case. We found that judges cited fewer factors as evidence of gross negligence than simple negligence. This suggests that a shift toward a gross negligence liability standard for escaped prescribed fire cases might result in fewer findings of prescribed burner liability.

published proceedings

  • LAND

altmetric score

  • 0.25

author list (cited authors)

  • Hinojosa, A., Kreuter, U. P., & Wonkka, C. L.

citation count

  • 5

complete list of authors

  • Hinojosa, Alissa||Kreuter, Urs P||Wonkka, Carissa L

publication date

  • January 2020


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