Prescribed burns are increasingly being used in ecological restoration and vegetation management. Despite the accumulation of scientific information on fire behavior and fire effects, however, in many cases fires are prescribed without consideration of such information and often simply because of evidence of past fires. Rather than basing fire management plans on ideas of the historical 'natural' occurrence of fire, we present the case for fire management being based on the fire effects desired. Effective fire management and development of proper fire prescriptions require an understanding of fire processes and heat transfer that explain fire behavior characteristics, as well as an understanding of how fire behavior is coupled to specific fire effects. We provide a basic introduction to these concepts and processes, which will help in understanding the importance of having a more technical understanding of fire. The discussion includes the processes of heat transfer and the relative rold of various fuel variables in these processes, as well as the concepts of fire intensity, rate of spread, fuel consumption, duff consumption, fire frequency, and the ecological effects associated with variation in these characteristics of fire behavior. © 1995 Society for Ecological Restoration. Abstract reproduced by permission.