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Prescribed Fire: Harnessing a Natural Process to Heal Forests

The Prescribed Fire Training Exchange is taking place in north central Washington, mainly on Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest land. (The Nature Conservancy)
The Prescribed Fire Training Exchange is taking place in north central Washington, mainly on Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest land. (The Nature Conservancy)
September 28, 2017

PLAIN, Wash. -- The state is hosting its first-ever Prescribed Fire Training Exchange as another devastating fire season comes to an end.

Over this week and the next, agencies and groups will come together in north central Washington to trade tips on managing blazes and to explore the use of fire in creating healthier forests. Proponents of prescribed burns are hoping the state will use these controlled fires more to mitigate the risks from wildfires.

Kara Karboski, lead organizer of the training and coordinator for the Washington Prescribed Fire Council, said the burns provide a great opportunity to learn more about fires.

"You look a little more closely at the fire behavior. You learn a little bit more closely about how fuels respond,” Karboski said. "It's direct fire experience, so you actually get to work directly with fires - and that's an important component - but you also learn how fire can be used as a tool."

Prescribed burns can be controversial because of the smoke they produce. But there is growing concern that without the nature process of burning, forest fires are getting worse.

Reese Lolley, director of forest restoration and fire with The Nature Conservancy, said a study by his organization and U.S. Forest Service found that more than 2.7 million acres of Washington state forestland are in need of restoration. Much of the brush cleared in restoration is highly flammable and also can be dangerous for firefighters.

"Our policy through the 1900s of excluding fire left our forests in a pretty unhealthy condition,” Lolley said. “And using active thinning and controlled burning now is really effective for ecosystem health and also making conditions more safe for firefighters and communities."

Hilary Lundgren is the Washington state coordinator with the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network. She said her organization has been documenting areas in north central Washington where the Forest Service has burned before - a place where fires typically occurred every seven to 25 years.

"If the burns happen in the fall, in the spring you're going to see new growth of native plant species,” Lundgren said; "kind of what the forest conditions previously looked like prior to suppressing fires over the last 100 years.”

The controlled burns will take place on Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest land, The Nature Conservancy preserve near Moses Coulee, and some private land. Local, state and federal agencies are at the training, as well as the Oregon Department of Forestry.

More information on the training is online at

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA