Stories in Washington

A Season of Good Fire in Washington

A line of fire workers in their yellow fire gear and tools walk a trail in a forest.
Prescribed Fire Work Prescribed fire crew walks in a line along a forest trail. © Amanda Monthei

When autumn rains roll in, dampening the soil and putting an end to the summer heat, Washington’s prescribed fire season really begins to heat up.  

This October, Washington’s leaders in prescribed fire came together across the state to take full advantage of the opportunity to put good fire to work on our lands. From the Columbia Gorge to the northeast corner of Washington, prescribed fire training exchanges (TREX) were taking place to facilitate peer-to-peer learning and hands-on experience with prescribed fire as a practice for land management and community resilience.

A fire worker tilts an ignited drip torch to vegetation on the ground.
Drip Torch Prescribed fire practitioner carries a drip torch through the burn area to ignite fine fuels and start the prescribed burn. © Kara Karboski

Why Do We Need Prescribed Fire?

Many forests and grasslands in Washington were historically fire-adapted and benefitted from low-intensity fires every 10-15 years, and cultural burning has been practiced by Indigenous peoples since time immemorial to steward these lands. In the past century, aggressive fire suppression has left people and lands more susceptible to catastrophic wildfires.

Prescribed burns are a forest management practice that uses low-intensity fire to the land to reduce dead or dying vegetation, leaf litter and small trees that can fuel larger wildfires and helps recycle nutrients into the soil. This helps forests become more resilient to wildfires and reduces the risk to nearby communities.

TREX Across Washington

Training exchanges for prescribed fire take place across the U.S. and in recent years have become a cornerstone of prescribed fire and forest health management in Washington state. These events bring government agencies, Native Nations, non-profits and communities together to provide training for fire practitioners, raise awareness about the need for prescribed fire and create more resilient communities and lands in Washington.

A person dressed in fire gear working in the forest.
Prescribed Fire Practitioners Prescribed fire practitioners stand alongside a prescribed fire unit during training. © Amanda Monthei

This year, two TREX events were hosted in Washington—Columbia Gorge and Selkirk—bringing together more than 72 people, burning on 742 acres of public and private lands to learn from one another and grow our capacity for conducting prescribed fire. The role of TREX is pivotal as Washington and many states across the West aim to increase the use of prescribed fire as a practice for protecting our forests and our communities by reducing the risk and impact of future wildfires. To achieve our goals, we need to grow the workforce and train more fire practitioners to conduct prescribed burns.

As part of TREX, participants receive hands-on training, providing opportunity to advance their professional fire qualifications and maintain the qualifications they have already earned, learning how to prepare, conduct and clean up a prescribed burn. It also enables land managers to implement burns on both public and private lands when conditions are just right and with the help of a dedicated crew.

TNC and our partners across the state are thrilled to have had such a successful season of prescribed burns and to see Washington’s capacity for prescribed fire growing through TREX each and every year.