Smoke from a prescribed fire visible above Lake Tahoe. Photo credit NLTFPD.

Topic: Communications / Outreach Fuels treatment / Prescribed fire Meetings / Events Preparedness Type: Success Story / Lessons Learned

Prescribed Fire Open House Provides Learning Experience for Community

Authors: Forest Schafer

With the return of cool, wet weather this winter after four years of drought, “Prescribed Fire” signs have been popping up along Lake Tahoe roads, and wisps of smoke floating above the lake have become a daily sight. The smoke is a reminder of the critical role fire plays in improving forest health and reducing wildfire risk for Lake Tahoe communities. But for some, it also recalls times when wildfires have threatened community health and safety, such as the Angora Fire which destroyed 254 homes in 2007. Or during the King and Rim Fires when smoke poured into the Basin for days and residents and visitors were advised to stay indoors.

To help improve communications between the community and fire managers, and to help build the next generation of fire managers, the Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team recently partnered with a local sixth grade class to host a prescribed fire open house. The event provided an opportunity for the public to talk with local agencies about why prescribed fire is used in the Lake Tahoe region, and how these agencies make decisions about when and where operations take place.

Open House Flyer

Open House Flyer

Tahoe Expedition Academy’s Sixth Grade Class leads a planning meeting for the open house. Photo credit NLTFPD.

Tahoe Expedition Academy’s Sixth Grade Class leads a planning meeting for the open house. Photo credit NLTFPD.

The open house was also a showcase for the students to share their knowledge and school projects about wildfire and prescribed fire operations. Shelly Robertson’s sixth grade students at the Tahoe Expedition Academy spent several months learning about the role wildfire plays in Sierra Nevada ecosystems. “Our school not only values studying real issues that affect our community, such as wildfire, but we also aim to incorporate service into our learning. This project has been a perfect combination, and has brought the learning alive for our students,” Shelly said.

A student discusses fire weather monitoring with a portable weather station built by the class. Photo credit NLTFPD.

A student discusses fire weather monitoring with a portable weather station built by the class. Photo credit NLTFPD.

The Tahoe Fire and Fuels Team is looking for ways to bring interactive learning opportunities about wildland and prescribed fire to more local classrooms. Engaging with local students provided valuable learning opportunities for the class and the Team members alike. Zachary, one of the participating students, shared his reflections about his learning highlights, and how we can improve next time:

“I think the Learn About the Burn open house was a really great idea because it gave us a chance to show what we’ve learned. It was really interesting to see the real RAWS weather station. The real one is way more techy and efficient than the one we made in class because it relies on solar power and a human does not have to do anything to operate it. Also it transports all of the data to a computer so that nobody has to go out and receive it. It was very interesting to talk to the Forest Service about how they manage the wildernesses because they don’t do any prescribed burns there, and also it was interesting to know that sometimes private landowners such as the owners of the ski resorts sometimes enlist the help of the Forest Service to help them clear out their property. It was really great to use the sand table because instead of just telling the audience what makes a healthy and unhealthy forest we got to show them. It was great to have the raffle with the stamp cards because it caused more people to move around through the stations. I do wish there was more people so we should advertise it more next year. Overall, it was great and I think we should keep doing the event as an annual thing.

The class also worked and trained with the Tahoe Hotshots to learn about prescribed fire. View a great video about their experience at the Tahoe Expedition Academy website.

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