Day 1 Learning the Importance of Prescribed Burns

My name is Shane Halligan. I’m an intern here at Terra Fuego. Prior to today I had no experience or knowledge about what a prescribed burn was or how it was conducted, after just 1 day on the job I gained valuable insight into what this process is and the important role it plays in the prevention of wildfires and the preservation of our ecosystem. The first part of my day began with a short drive up beautiful Highway 32 and into Big Chico Creek Canyon where we visited a client of Terra Fuego. This property is being prepping for a prescribed (controlled) burn, after some initial fuels reduction and restoration from the “Old Fire”. With us was Dan Taverner, an inspector from the NRCS who was there to ensure that our prep work was up to standard (which, with the guidance of my boss Stephen Graydon, a professional in the field, was not an issue). We walked around her 300 acre property, and the 40 acre project site, checking burn piles that had been made by cutting and gathering dead brush and trees, that without this maintenance would be fuel for a raging wildfire. Each pile was strategically placed based on elevation compensating for wind and proximity to flourishing plant life to ensure that the controlled burn would not get out of control.

As I shadowed Stephen as a fly on the wall, I learned many things in his conversations with Dan about the importance of educating land owners on the benefits of controlled burns; they were a powerful tool to ensure that the Californian’s would be prepared for the future wildfires to come. They emphasized the need for the public to understand that these controlled burns are extremely safe, meticulously planned, and also a completely natural process that the environment requires. These forests need fire for the regrowth of new life and protection of what is living here now. They informed me that after these initial piles were burned a fire crew comes in and uses a low intensity burn across the forest floor to burn up dead leaves, pine needles and twigs which during the summer create embers and radiant heat making the fire more powerful and intense. The more that I listened to them talk the more I saw the need for this information to get out to the public.

With the blame for large scale fires being placed on negligence on behalf of the forest service and fire crews by our government, it dawned on me the responsibility we all hold for protecting and maintaining our forests and private land. Though wildfires are unpredictable it doesn’t mean that they aren’t able to be defended against and it’s time that we lobby for changes to be made in local and state government regarding controlled burn regulations. This would not only provide protection for the future of our forests and communities in wildfire areas, but also hundreds of jobs for those in need. As the day moved on so did we to the Big Chico Creek Ecological Reserve. Here I got a hands on chance to see how these prep piles were burned. The job was easy going as we cleared brush and slowly smoldered each pile keeping careful eye to ensure it was done safely. Observing the task at hand I saw how simple the process was and how a little bit of work now would be paying off big time come fire season when all the brush would be dry and primed for destruction. The beauty of the land itself struck me as further reason for these burns, which preserve the larger trees and brush in the forest rather than letting them succumb to the devastation caused by a massive wildfire. Overall it was fantastic learning experience and I’m excited to see what my next day on the job has in store.