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When it comes to getting things done on a large scale, partnerships are the name of the game.

The adage very much applies to the concept of prescribed burning, and in the case of the work being done in Upper County, Roslyn Fire Department member and private landowner Chris Martin has been part of the process from the very beginning.

Along with participating in the process from the fire department’s perspective, he has also been applying the concepts of forest thinning and prescribed burns to his property which abuts the Roslyn Urban Forest, as well as lands managed by The Nature Conservancy. He said his first experiences with the process began during the Jolly Mountain Fire in 2017.

“Roslyn Fire did a walk through the Roslyn Urban Forest and the incident commander from the fire had basically remarked that we had to do something about those woods there,” he said. “He said that if fire had gotten into them at that time, that it would have been a significant challenge for the town.”

Although he had already begun some thinning work on his own property, he said the concept of applying healthy fire to the land came out of a conversation with The Nature Conservancy about the Prescribed Fire Training Exchange, otherwise known as TREX.

“They asked if I would consider burning on my land, and I said yes, because I had sort of already thought about that already,” he said. “In short order, we pulled together all the agreements and plans and did a prescribed burn on some of my lands in 2017 while the Jolly Mountain Fire was still an active incident.”


Over the past four years, Martin has seen the effects of the process of both thinning and prescribed burns. Although he said the thinning, or mastication side of the process is beneficial in its own right, the process isn’t as effective if other practices aren’t combined with it. He likened the concept to when somebody prunes a shrub, and it grows back stronger as a result.

“That’s kind of what you’re doing,” he said of the mastication and thinning process. “It was in 2016 that I had done a lot of masticating on my land, and in the areas we burned, the shrub cover hasn’t come back on my land nearly as much. The fire kills the shrubs and allows the grasses and the forbs to make a comeback. There’s areas that I’ve masticated and not burned, and then obviously areas that we have burned, and there is no question that the fire really knocks back the shrub layer, which is good because they are a ladder fuel.”

By removing the dense shrub understory and reducing the amount of ladder fuels on the ground that can cause wildfires to reach the crowns of trees, Martin said the partnership is aiming to return the areas being treated in Upper County to that of a fire-adapted ecosystem. After going through the stressful events of the Jolly Mountain Fire, he said community residents have become much more accepting of the concepts of healthy fire activity in the forestlands surrounding area towns.

After the fire, Martin said local fire departments held a series of meetings and showed an educational slideshow about prescribed burning, and said the slideshow had a strong turnout from residents.

“We had more people show up than we could fit in the building,” he said. “We do pretty extensive mailings every year, as well as signage and social media. The acceptance is that we have gotten closer to town each year with the prescribed burns. Last year, we burned a little bit into the Roslyn Urban Forest, and this year we burned right down to town.”

From the fire department’s perspective, Martin said they are extremely grateful for the patience of the residents that have been affected by the smoke from the prescribed burns, especially as they get closer to town in their efforts.

“They weren’t necessarily happy about the smoke, but they understood why it was being done,” he said.


When it comes to wildfires, Martin said there is adherence to property lines and ownership conditions. A fire that starts on government-managed land can easily spread to private land if the conditions are right, and he said it is for this reason that partnerships regarding forestland treatment are crucial.

“The other things that don’t conform with property lines well are natural firebreaks,” he said. “Natural roads and trails can be used as a control line, so when we’re looking at doing prescribed fire, we don’t want to have to cut a line around somebody’s 20-acre rectangle. Ideally, we can get a group of property owners to agree that this benefits all of us.”

As chair of the Washington Prescribed Fire Council, Martin said the partnerships forged by the TREX program are crucial in facilitating the ability for individual fire departments to work with private landowners on becoming educated about and applying prescribed burns to the landscape.

“Prescribed fire is not something that has been done a lot in Washington,” he said. “The Forest Service has done a little but, but DNR hasn’t done much in a long time. At the end of the day, most communities and towns are not surrounded by National Forest or state land, but parcels owned by private landowners.”

As the TREX program is being showcased in Upper County, Martin said he hopes that visiting fire departments can take the model back to their communities, so that they can see similar results in their forestlands as what has happened over the past four years in the Roslyn area.

“The key is starting to own the problem,” he said. “We can’t rely on the DNR or Forest Service to handle everything, as they’ve got a lot of their own lands to focus on. The TREX program and community fire management can help small towns, cities, and counties find a model that will work for their community.”

Reporting for the DR since March 2018. Lover of campfires, black labs and good vibes. Proud Humboldt State alum!


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