GEORGETOWN, Calif., June 1 (Reuters) – A prescribed burn begins on a California hillside using a drip torch to ignite fallen brush, needles and branches, the flames spreading across the forest floor well below the canopy of the trees.
Students in this Saturday’s class are learning how to keep the burn under control, while others are ready to help with pumps, hand tools and first aid.
Teaching the locals is exactly what Susie Kocher hopes to achieve through the El Dorado Amador Prescribed Burn Association. Founded in 2021, the association teaches private landowners about prescribed burns, including how to plan and carry them out safely.
Experts like Kocher and firefighters see prescribed burns as a vital tool in curbing wildfire risks by preemptively burning dry wood and other fodder that could fuel the kind of out-of-control fires California has seen in recent years. .
“People have an innate fear of fire because it has just been an enemy that has been wiping out communities and still is,” Kocher said. “But if you do it at the right time, on your own terms, it can be your friend. and can treat the forest instead of destroying it.”
One of the students is Sarah Fischbach, a sixth-generation Californian who grew up burning piles of wood, leaves and other tree debris on her family’s 439-acre property in the Sierra Nevada foothills. But recent fire conditions have been intimidating.
“We haven’t done any pile burning for probably 10 to 15 years with the way the fires have gone. You know, recently we’ve been scared and we haven’t really had the knowledge to feel like we were doing it safely,” Fischbach said.
California last year released a strategic plan for forest and wildfire resiliency with a goal of expanding prescribed burns to 400,000 acres annually by 2025.
Saturday’s class for two dozen volunteers, mostly college students and some private landowners, at the Blodgett Forest Research Station, west of Lake Tahoe, turned out just as experts expected.
“We are seeing really nice fire behavior. It is consuming a lot of material on the ground, a lot of fuel, and clearing the understory. But we’re not seeing it go into our treetops, which is exactly what we’re looking for,” said Ariel Roughton, research forest manager.
Along the perimeter, Cathy Mueller watched as the fire moved downhill, learning how she should burn her four-acre property, a practice she believes California needs to do more of.
“California is meant to burn, and we’ve been putting out the fire for so long that the buildup of fuels is kind of a state of emergency right now,” Mueller said.
“So as individual homeowners, if we can take care of our individual properties and reduce fuels both by mechanical means and by diffusion, our neighborhoods will be safer.”
Reporting by Nathan Frandino; Written by Mary Milliken; Edited by David Gregorio
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