Some could argue the 1944 Smokey Bear campaign, the longest-running public service ad campaign in U.S. history, might have worked a little too well, effectively asserting itself as the source of education for generations of Americans about wildfires. Although it is still important to prevent wildfires at all costs, the United States Forest Service and other agencies say fire is a natural process necessary for forest health.

This mindset encouraged the creation of Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX), which helps train fire personnel in the field of wildfire management.

Washington Prescribed Fire Council, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), the USDA Forest Service, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Fire Learning Network, worked in partnership to host the Cascadia TREX program.

TREX trainees were lighting and monitoring controlled burns in the Okanagan Wenatchee National Forest near Liberty April 28 through May 10.

Forests today are a stark contrast to the patchy landscapes that existed 100 years ago. People are learning fires is multifacted — not only does fire help to clear debris and thin trees, but also stops the spread of diseases and insect outbreaks.

In recent years, there’s been a surge in wildfires and what is now becoming known as mega fires, a fire that burns more than a 100,000 acres.

Prescribed burns not only helps with fire prevention, forest experts say, but also promote the growth of healthy ecosystems.

“The plan is to get more good fire on the ground and getting folks out to be fire practitioners,” Jon Bailey, incident commander said. “Brand new firefighters, to the most seasoned firefighter are mentoring each other and learning with each other.”

Fire practitioners with a variety of skill sets, experience and backgrounds learned the ins and out of prescribe burning for 12 days during the training.

“The hope is they’re coming here to get skills that aren’t offered in other places, or getting more well rounded experience with fuels,” Bailey said. “So that if they’re doing prescribed fire back home out east they can come out west and help with wildfire or prescribed fire.”

According to Bailey, spring is the best time to do these burns when things are greening up and there are high moisture levels in grasses.

Bailey said large wildfires remove canopies and kill all the trees, but the heat is also so intense that it scorches the soil.

“What it does is it takes all the nutrients out of the soil,” Bailey said. “So coming in with low-intensity fire, and a managed control fashion, you can integrate training and promote healthy growth.”

Bailey said TREX is an effective way to network but is also an opportunity to bring minds together, learning and growing from one another.

“It also puts folks kind of out of their comfort zone. It’s a new place new people and I think that’s creates a strong, tight knit group learning and growing together,” Bailey, said. “There’s bonds that will last forever while putting good fire on the ground.”


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