Dec 17, 2015
My Favorite Fall Color is Fire
Authors: Lenya Quinn-Davidson
December has brought rain, snow and high winds to northern California, and we’ve all delighted in the intensity of the storms that we’ve so sorely missed the last few years. From my office window, I watch the waves of the Pacific Ocean crashing over the jetty and into the mouth of Humboldt Bay, and I revel in the authority of the elements, with which we in northern California have such a close and raw connection.
This fire season was a perfect example. A lightning storm at the end of July started fires across northwestern California, affecting not only the very fire-prone inland areas, but also more coastal landscapes. More than 4,500 fires burned in northern California, covering a total of just over 555,000 acres. During the height of fire activity, there were three separate incident management teams operating within 30 miles of my hometown in Trinity County—a locally unprecedented concentration of resources. This fire season reminded us, as most summers do, of the intimate and inevitable relationship between our local landscape and fire.
However intense and distracting the wildfire season, there remained a focus on the longer-term vision for our region—one where we are working year-round to be more fire adapted. Central to these efforts are prescribed fire training exchange (TREX) events, which are sponsored and organized by local NGOs and the Fire Learning Network (FLN). While the wildfires burned and the smoke filled the air, local community leaders were laying the groundwork for three separate TREX events, preparing burn units, fostering relationships with local fire personnel, securing permits, lining up facilities and food and ensuring that the wildfires didn’t preclude the critical use of prescribed fire in the fall.
These efforts paid off, and at the end of September—while some wildfires were still active in the region—the Klamath TREX kicked off what would total five weeks of successful burning and learning across the three TREXs. The Klamath and Yurok TREXs focused efforts in the Klamath River corridor, burning around homes and communities, and bringing fire back to culturally significant landscapes. The Nor Cal TREX covered three different regions, traveling from the Doug fir-tanoak forests near Weitchpec to the oak woodlands and mixed-conifer forests of Trinity County, and then finishing in black oak stands and chaparral in the hills west of Redding.
These events represented a significant scaling up from past years. In 2013, the Nor Cal TREX was the sole event, and the Klamath TREX was launched in 2014. This fall, the Yurok TREX joined the lineup, and the Klamath TREX split into three separate burn teams to cover a broader area. The three events involved nearly 150 participants, including local community members, students, NGO staff and tribal members, as well as federal, state, municipal and private firefighters from across the country and from Spain. We treated more than 700 acres, and trainees worked on and completed a wide range of position task books, including for burn boss, firing boss, engine boss, firefighter type 1 and 2 and fire effects monitor. In the Klamath, local school children were integrated through field trips and presentations, and throughout the region, scientists and other experts were invited to share new research and information with TREX crews. CAL FIRE provided vital support, issuing permits for prescribed burning while unit-wide burn bans were still in effect. The media covered the events in detail, and videographers joined portions of the trainings to glean footage for fire-related video projects. And as summer turned into fall and the wildfires simmered down, our hills were still alight with their native fall colors: the yellows and oranges of oak leaves, dry pine needles and fire.
In northern California, we embrace the rain, the snow, the hail, and the winds; we embrace the steep mountains, the wild rivers, the curvy roads and the poison oak. Our region is rugged, and so are we. And we are learning—one successful TREX after another—to embrace fire.
For more information, contact Lenya at lenyaqd[at]gmail.com, or visit the website for the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council.