State and federal agencies are working to build their capacity for the use of prescribed fire to manage forests.
That process began Sunday in Cle Elum as participants in a training exchange gathered for exercises that will continue over the next two weeks. They include intentionally set fires on up to 930 acres in central and eastern Washington.
The training, called TREX, is one of eight such training exchanges happening across the nation this fall. It brings together firefighters from six agencies in Washington and one in British Columbia.
Holly Krake, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Forest Service, says from small community volunteer firefighters to bureau of land management crews, practitioners at every level are learning how to fight fire with fire.
“Every acre that we burn today is less likely to burn at high intensity and produce dense smoke in the summers that follow,” Krake said.
“So, every bit of prescribed fire smoke and prescribed fire acres that we are willing and able to treat in a fall or in a spring is one less acre that will burn at high intensity in the summer.”
She says fire is a natural part of forest ecology that humans have suppressed. That leaves forests with built-up fuels, so accidental fires burn with extreme intensity that generates extra smoke.
“If we have fire that comes through every five to 25 years, it’s playing its role. It’s low intensity, less of a threat to communities and it’s helping the watershed function like it should,” said Krake.
She says communities work closely with land managers, the Department of Ecology and the Weather Service to determine when and where to set the fires and how big they should be. They only set the fires when weather conditions are safe and winds predictable. And part of the training is communication with affected communities, so people aren’t surprised by the smoke, which will be mild compared to uncontrolled summer wildfires.
The TREX training takes place this year for the second time in Washington State.