Interagency Training prepares Southern Area for Prescribed Fire

Release Date: Sep 22, 2022

By: Sheila Holifield, USDA Forest Service, Southern Region

ATLANTA, September 22, 2022 — Throughout the nation, the wildland fire management environment has shifted toward extreme fire behavior, longer fire seasons and more acres burned from wildfires each year. In May, the USDA Forest Service paused its prescribed fire program for 90 days to review procedures and ensure best practices for future operations. Amid the pause, fire management staff from the Southern Region of the Forest Service conducted an Interagency Prescribed Fire Training in Chattanooga, Tennessee. 

Prescribed burning is a key management tool used to reduce wildfire risk making the training crucial for the agency’s fire personnel. The training, also known within the agency’s fire community as the Prescribed Fire Burn Boss Refresher, is an intense course intended to update qualified personnel at all complexity levels on current issues and recent developments related to prescribed fire while reinforcing existing skills and knowledge. 

This year, the curriculum was adjusted and expanded to offer a rich learning and networking experience for prescribed fire practitioners, fire managers, agency administrators, researchers and partners from across the Southern Area in an inclusive, cross-boundary approach.  

The three-day training session provided an opportunity for nearly 300 attendees representing 20 different organizations to collaborate with interdisciplinary scientists and researchers to share and improve the science related to fire ecology, fire effects and wildfire mitigation. It also allowed participants to build a broad and diverse network of state, tribal, county, federal and non-government organization contacts to enhance collaborative relationships in support of managing fire across landscapes.  

“Recent and on-going wildfire activity throughout the country highlights the many challenges and opportunities we face as we continue our efforts in wildfire risk reduction and ecosystem resilience,” said Andrew Baker, assistant director of Fire & Aviation Management for the Southern Region. 

In fact, west Texas and portions of Oklahoma confronted some of the most exceptional drought conditions in the nation during the spring months. 

“This training was extremely timely,” said Baker. “Participants were able to get hands-on experience with mapping systems, firing devices, smoke modeling and the latest science related to prescribed fire.” 

The Southern Region has some of the highest frequency of wildfires in the nation, due in part to the amount of Wildland Urban Interface. However, active forest management and the prescribed fire program mitigate impacts.  

“Prescribed fire supports healthy forests. It helps establish new longleaf and shortleaf pine forests,” said Regional Forester Ken Arney. “Prescribed fire also allows us to mitigate future wildfire risks.” 

Editor’s Note: In response to the increased wildfire risk, the Forest Service has embraced a 10-year strategy for rising to the challenge of addressing the threat to our national forests (Confronting the Wildfire Crisis: A Strategy for Protecting Communities and Improving Resilience in America’s Forests). 

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two women looking at the camera smiling and next to screen monitors

Leta Schoeller (left) and Emily Link (right), with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, attended the prescribed fire training in Chattanooga to inform participants about Terrestrial LiDAR monitoring capabilities. LiDAR is light detection and ranging remote sensing which is used as a tool in prescribed fire operations. (Courtesy photo by Robin Bible, Tennessee Department of Agriculture).  

group of people lookin at a presentation

During the Interagency Prescribed Fire Training for the Southern Area, Kelly Cagle engages with participants about prescribed burn plans. Cagle is a USDA Forest Service Fire Behavior Analyst and discussed the complexity of reviewing the burn plans with agency administrators. (Courtesy photo by Robin Bible, Tennessee Department of Agriculture).