Using Fire to Treat Privately Owned Forests in Oregon: The Firing Boss Perspective
Author: Sean Hendrix
Sean Hendrix has 28 years of experience as a wildland firefighter and prescribed fire practitioner. He has been a Type 1 Burn Boss for over 17 years, and a Fire Manager for over 15 years. During this time, he has worked in a multitude of fuel types all over the western United States. Sean is employed by Grayback Forestry, Inc. in Merlin, Oregon. (Grayback Forestry generously provided services in kind to this year’s Ashland TREX.)
Can you describe your role in this project, and your history of working with this land/landowner?
Sean: I co-wrote the McKinley Kelly burn plan with Mel Wann. I have worked on many projects in Southern Oregon with the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative and George McKinley. Through this work we got to know each other and our respective skill sets well. We share a passion about the health of our forests and work well together.
What’s different about burning on private land versus federal land?
Sean: On private land, the landowner and the prescribed fire overhead team would be held liable for an escape and any subsequent damages. Also, on private land, the burn boss and firing boss have a bit more control over the timing of the burn and implementation. On agency-administered burns agency-certified personnel held the positions of burn boss and firing boss. On private lands there was flexibility in those positions.
Was there anything special or unique about this project?
Sean: Multi-agency and multi-cultural personnel and crew cohesion. Special bonds were formed even though participants were from multiple states, countries and cultures. Everyone worked well together to form a great team with great success.
How is the TREX model different from your other work?
Sean: In my other work as a private contractor we are paid piece work–by the acre. So we have to be very timely and efficient in our planning, all the while balancing the fuel conditions, the regulatory climate concerning smoke clearances, and landowner/customer needs/objectives.
What advice would you give to fire managers approaching projects like this one on private land?
Sean: My advice is to engage the community. Use the opportunity to teach the public about the benefits of using prescribed fire on the lands around their communities.
What advice would you give to people interested in participating in a TREX?
Sean: If you want to learn about fire and meet new people in working with fire, TREX is a great place to gain experience in fire while learning a bit about other cultures and countries and how fire plays a role in their environments.
What aspects of this project would you want to duplicate on other burns?
Sean: I would like to duplicate the Incident Management Overhead Team. They came together on short notice and pulled off a successful underburn season. Most of the time in my world I have to wear four or five hats and it gets a bit time-consuming.
Describe the role you envision for prescribed fire in land management in 20 years.
Sean: I would like to see it used in a more efficient manner, and used with patience and good timing to maintain future forests. So often too-intense fire is used in burn outs [on wildfire incidents], which totally destroys the remaining forest, when some patience could yield better results. DO NOT LET PYROMANIA TAKE OVER THE MIND, which so often can happen. Do more night burning!
Is there anything we didn’t ask you that you’d like our readers to know?
Sean: Fire has played a crucial role in our communities and environments for thousands and thousands of years. With many years of successful fire suppression, we have fueled our forest with undergrowth, and–combined with drought and population increases–fire is here to stay. We need to be cognizant of fire and use it as a tool where applicable.