How We're Returning Fire to the Landscape

By Nikolaj Lasbo, Digital Marketing Manager

You know the saying, “Fight fire with fire.” Well, in our Eastern Washington dry forests, this is exactly the approach we are taking to reduce the risks of future large wildfires.

On Oct. 4, a crew of fire practitioners and partners with Kittitas County Fire District 1, Kittitas Valley Fire & Rescue and Washington Department of Natural Resources conducted a prescribed burn on 33 acres at Roslyn Ridge. It was part of a training opportunity to increase expertise in prescribed fire and conduct successful burns to restore forest health and reduce wildfire risk.

TREX is a training opportunity to increase expertise in prescribed fire and conduct successful burns to restore forest health and reduce wildfire risk. © Nikolaj Lasbo / TNC

Unlike the large wildfires burning across the West this summer, this fire was intentionally set and is designed to protect the nearby communities and restore forests. The agencies’ goals are to learn and train in the use of prescribed fire through a formal training exchange (TREX). Sponsored by the Fire Learning Network, TREX is a unique opportunity for fire personnel from across the region to learn about prescribed fire and forest health across traditional agency boundaries.

The Oct. 4 burn on 33 acres as seen from the town of Roslyn. © Nikolaj Lasbo / TNC

Intentional to training is building relationships and trust between the participants. Photo © Nikolaj Lasbo / TNC

“Fire is a natural part of our Eastern Washington landscapes, and we use prescribed burns as a tool to return fire to our forests in a controlled and deliberate way,” said Kara Karboski, coordinator with the Washington Prescribed Fire Council. “Prescribed burns reduces future risk from wildfires, protects communities and restores our forests.”

We’ve identified several challenges to implementing prescribed fire in Washington, including a lack of capacity, expertise, and training in prescribed fire. These are the very things the prescribed fire training exchange is working toward addressing.

Shared stewardship of our forests requires increasing coordination and training across fire and forest-management entities. A primary goal of the TREX training exchanges is to increase local capacity, knowledge and skills for prescribed fires by providing fire training and creating new relationships and trust among participating groups.

“While the core of TREX is providing basic firefighter training from preparing to implementing prescribe fire, outcomes of TREX are much greater,” said Reese Lolley, The Nature Conservancy’s director of forest restoration and fire. “Intentional to training is building relationships and trust between a diverse set of entities and participants that supports interagency cooperation from local to international.”

 Mopup on Oct. 4 after the prescribed burn on Roslyn Ridge. © Nikolaj Lasbo / TNC

Mopup on Oct. 4 after the prescribed burn on Roslyn Ridge. © Nikolaj Lasbo / TNC

Participants understand and work toward resolving barriers from having enough resources, to smoke or weather to successfully implement safer fire. TREX team members put fire to work for a variety of purposes — from helping a community prepare for future wildfires to creating more defensible space, from restoring habitat to improving forestry. While fire training is the bottom-line objective of TREX, coming away with deeper understanding of the social, political, ecological and economic aspects of prescribed fire are also important outcomes.

A TREX participant records weather measurements during the Oct. 4 burn. Dry forest prescribed fires are conducted in the fall and spring when conditions, like soil moisture, are right to ensure the fire stays under control. © Nikolaj Lasbo / TNC

“This summer I visited community after community struggling to breathe and thrive in unnaturally dense wildfire smoke,” said Public Lands Commissioner Hilary Franz, who was on site for the Roslyn Ridge burn. “It’s a wake-up call for everyone in the state — we must come together and support tools like prescribed fire that can restore Washington’s dry forests.”

Explore the Role of Fire in our Forests