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Prescribed Fire Is In All of Our Hands

June 14, 2022

 Prescribed fires take the hands of many to plan and complete successfully. An “all hands” approach is needed to plan meetings, study forests, create maps, process paperwork, test fuel moisture, analyze weather, measure perimeters, dig fire breaks, and ignite drip torches.  


Shared Risk – Shared Contribution  

Planning and completing a single prescribed burn can be a multi-year process covering every detail from pre-burn analysis and preparation to post-burn study and monitoring. Representatives of federal, state, and local fire agencies, academia, nonprofits, utility companies, and private landowners put their heads together to make it happen. These partnerships take many forms, strengthening through time as they leverage and share each other’s resources, knowledge, and networks. That’s a lot of hands. Each brings different experiences, skill sets, project goals, and perspectives, but they’re all unified over the same priorities: the stewardship of our forests, watersheds, wildlife, and the safety of our communities.  


Burn Day Staffing 

All hands on deck for the Elkhorn Unit 4 prescribed burn.

When ignition day ultimately arrives, leadership is provided by a Prescribed Fire Manager or “burn boss”. The crew gathers in the morning at the project site with their equipment. The burn boss gives out assignments and lays out the organizational structure for the day. A firing supervisor coordinates resources to safely ignite the fire. The holding supervisor focuses her team on keeping the fire within the designated perimeter. Other positions can include incident meteorologist, fire effects monitor, resource specialists, fire behavior analyst, safety officer, strategic operations planner, and air quality specialist. The burn boss oversees the coordination of tasks and procedures taking place minute by minute while monitoring and directing communications. From ignition through mop-up, hands work flames with rakes, axes, shovels, chainsaws, and water pumps. They operate radios, monitors and other equipment while keeping situational awareness sharp. Work can continue for a day or a week or more, depending on the size of the project area and the objectives set forth in the plan. Each member is responsible for fulfilling their own role while depending on the specialized expertise of each crewmate. When the burn boss declares that the fire is out, hands write reports, document processes, study the fire’s effects, apply new knowledge, and get to work planning the next project.   


The Land and You 

Another key participant is the watershed itself, sculpted by the hands of fire and water.  Mountainsides collect and funnel precious rain and snowmelt in ribbons that meet and grow into creeks, springs, seeps, wetlands, and rivers that ultimately flow from our faucets. Forests and the soils that hold them are an essential, integral part of that system. They, like us, can’t survive without it. Fires nourish and rejuvenate forests so they can thrive and maintain their role in the watershed system. Without them, the system would disintegrate.   

With or without prescribed fire, flames will always continue this role. But prescribed fires allow us to exert some control over their behavior, reducing wildfire risk to our community. The people and partnerships that make them happen are not unlike the watershed landscape. Pockets of ideas, knowledge, skills, commitment, will, and hands are at the head of each valley. They build momentum as they meet downstream to safely reintroduce healthy fires to the land.  

As a water-user on the northern front range, you’re another integral component of the system. Whether you take it upon yourself to learn about fire’s benefits, share that knowledge with neighbors, work with fire as part of your job, or simply accept that you coexist with fire’s necessary presence, we all have a role to play as residents living on fire-dependent lands.  

Start with your hands. Cup your palms together like you’re about to splash your face with alpine stream water. They form a basin, your fingertips, peaks. Rain would run down the ravines between your fingers, gather and braid with the lines across your palms, and flow out towards your heart. Your watershed in miniature is with you all the time. Reach out on its behalf. Get involved. Get your hands dirty by volunteering for a forest and watershed protection project. Wear out your fingers with internet searches about fire’s benefits. Use that pointer finger to scroll through social media following the #prescribedfire and #nocofireshed hashtags. Help put the future of our forests in good hands – your own. 


To learn more about the Northern Colorado Fireshed Collaborative and the work of our many partners visit: https://nocofireshed.org/ or follow us on social media at @nocofireshed