Staff Q&A with Jeff Crandall

Jeff Crandall, leader of The Nature Conservancy’s Southern Rockies Wildland Fire Module, talks forests and fire.

Ten years ago, the record-setting 2002 wildfire season brought a barrage of flames, smoke and ash to the forests and communities of Colorado. The 138,000-acre Hayman Fire epitomized these dramatic wildfires and ultimately destroyed 600 homes. The Hayman Fire also compromised drinking water supplies, threatened critical habitat for two endangered species, impacted many local businesses and cost more than $80 million in taxpayer dollars for suppression and rehabilitation.

Unfortunately, the conditions that drove the Hayman Fire continue to exist in many forests throughout the state, particularly along the Front Range where more than 2 million people live, work and play. One of the main culprits is an overabundance of trees. Without natural cycles of low intensity fires, many Front Range forests have become very dense, stressed by intense competition for resources and at extremely high risk to catastrophic wildfire and severe insect and disease outbreaks.

In addition to encouraging science-based decision-making and pro-active public policies, The Nature Conservancy supports the use of a wide range of forest management tools to help restore more resilient conditions. Critical among these tools is prescribed fire. Our Southern Rockies Wildland Fire Module is a uniquely trained 7-member crew that has been working since 2008 to safely and effectively use prescribed fire to restore healthy conditions to our forests. The crew is also trained in traditional fire suppression and assists a wide variety of partners in managing wildfires that cannot safely be allowed to burn.

We had the chance to sit down with Module Leader Jeff Crandall, an 11-year firefighting veteran and outdoor adventure enthusiast and ask him a few questions about fire and forests in Colorado.

>> You can help! Donate to our fire crew today and help us maintain healthy forests in Colorado and beyond.

“Everything we do is based in science. We are able to plan and prescribe, instead of just react.”

-Jeff Crandall, Southern Rockies Wildland Fire Module

Why did you become a firefighter?

Jeff Crandall:

I grew up near mountains and spent a lot of time exploring Olympic and Yosemite National Parks. I knew guys on fire crews and soon after high school one of them presented me with an opportunity to work outdoors and stay in shape all summer, and have winters off to go to school. I spent several years working on a National Park Service hand crew, eventually becoming the assistant captain. The people are what made it all worth it, and the travel. It's a really small community of people and partners. A crew is like a family.

How far have you traveled to fight fire?

Jeff Crandall:

From Alaska to Florida, and everywhere in between. I'm still hoping to get to Hawaii.

There are wildfires in Hawaii?

Jeff Crandall:

Yes! Not as often, but fire is important there too.

How is The Nature Conservancy's crew different from the others you have worked on?

Jeff Crandall:

Everything we do is based in science. We are able to plan and prescribe, instead of just react. We burn things on purpose and for a reason. We're really a jack of all trades crew. We can work with land owners to develop a "customer based" plan and we can be dropped off in the middle of nowhere with camping gear and solar panels to spend a couple of weeks in the back country. We also have two engines, which is unique amongst nationally certified interagency modules.

Why is fire important in Colorado?

Jeff Crandall:

Fire is particularly important along Colorado's Front Range in the Ponderosa Pine forests. Historically these areas had low-intensity fires around every seven years. Now after over 100 years of suppression, the whole system is out of whack. Fire is an important part of maintaining the whole system, and a tool that land managers can use for the ecological benefit of plants and animals.

What does it feel like to fight fire?

Jeff Crandall:

It's a lot of hard work. It's physically demanding, carrying 60 lbs on your back with a chainsaw, and it's mentally demanding. You often times only get 5 hours of sleep. Falling trees, rocks, and smoke make it dangerous - life threatening. It's often chaotic but I run on adrenaline.

Help support Jeff and his crew! Your donation helps maintain healthy forests in Colorado and beyond.


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