A Review of #NCTREX2015: A Little Cold and Precipitation Can’t Stop Us!

A hardy group of prescribed fire trainees recently braved the elements (yes, that includes snow, sleet, ice, wind, and rain!) to participate in a successful NC Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX). TREX is an innovative program that has proven to be successful in taking steps towards increasing the number of trained and qualified professionals needed to meet the increased demand for more prescribed burners across the country. With the support of numerous organizations including the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability (SERPPAS) Prescribed Fire Working Group led by North Carolina State University, the North Carolina Prescribed Fire Council, the Fire Learning Network, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and many others, a TREX was held in the Sandhills of NC from February 15-28, 2015. Despite some of the coldest temperatures on record in the area, 45 participants and 13 cadre members were able to share knowledge and techniques to enhance their prescribed burning skills.

Burn Day from Gretchen

Although they can take different forms, a typical TREX matches the specific learning objectives of individuals from several states and organizations to a two- to three-week fire event consisting of skill building, teaching firefighters how to work effectively as a team, and burning as often as the weather permits. In addition to on-the-ground training, a TREX may also include activities to demonstrate fire’s role in landscape conservation and local fire management practices, teach trainees about local fuel types and fire ecology, and integrate fire practitioners with local stakeholders and natural resource managers.

TREX’s are deliberately designed to create opportunities for trainees to work on their skills in prescribed fire and receive evaluations from qualified trainers, especially for those individuals pursuing qualifications through the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG). The host units, meanwhile, get qualified workers to help with large or complex burn events. The TREX gives trainees a concentrated dose of prescribed fire experience as well as exposure to new people, places and techniques. Seventy seven (77) TREX events have been conducted across more than 10 states during the last 7 years (<—side note, if you’d like to host one in your state, contact your local TNC office!).

During this TREX, 58 participants and cadre of all skill levels ranging from novice to expert came together to teach and learn from one another. They came from over 20 different federal, state, county, municipal, non-profit, and university organizations (including Bureau of Land Management, Duke University, Fort Bragg, Camp Lejeune, Joint Base Lewis-McCord, Mecklenburg County, National Center for Landscape Fire Analyses, National Park Service, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Nebraska Game and Parks, North Carolina Forest Service, North Carolina State Parks, North Carolina State University, North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, Northern Prairies Land Trust, The Nature Conservancy, US Forest Service, University of South Carolina, US Fish and Wildlife Service and Xerces Society) within 13 states (Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Washington) and Spain, in addition to a local private landowner. Thirty-five of the participants were working on their position task books for NWCG qualifications.  Training took place in the classroom and through on-the-ground training on both private and public lands.

The NC TREX was off to a good start, with 163 acres of longleaf pine habitat burned on three separate tracts owned by TNC and NC Wildlife Resources on just the second day. As the weather took a turn on the third day with a rainy mix not conducive to burning, the training and knowledge exchange was just beginning. The next few days were spent learning about the need for fire within the longleaf ecosystem, local ecology, weather monitoring and forecasts, smoke modeling, medical planning, operation of pumps and engines, firing techniques, and other topics both inside and outside of the classroom.

Four days later on February 20, the participants were able to burn 102 acres of longleaf on both NC Wildlife Resources and TNC lands, as well as some pile burning on private lands which served as a training opportunity for participants to work on their firefighting skills to suppress a “wildfire.” The following day, 258 acres were burned on three tracts owned by TNC, and one tract on private lands.

From here the weather turned from bad to worse, but morale remained high (possibly due to the massive amounts of candy from pinata night, evening Jenga tournaments, or the amazing caterer?), and the dedication to training did not end here. Classroom and other non-burning field training continued to take place. On February 27, the last day of TREX, a small burn window allowed for one more acre of burning, and all of the participants had a chance to practice their skills at initial attack on several “wildfires.”

During this TREX, approximately 525 acres of longleaf habitat were burned on both private and public lands.  By many accounts, the most valuable aspect of the training was the exposure to techniques, approaches, and culture of fire programs from many different organizations, different states, and experiences in different fuel types.

The NC Chapter of The Nature Conservancy took the lead in coordinating logistics, planning and prepping burn units, and providing the Incident Commander, Mike Norris.  Mike said, “Despite the poor weather, we maximized the training opportunities on each burn by having solid plans, motivated participants, and well-coordinated operations at each prescribed fire.” Based on how well this TREX went, he is already starting to make plans for another TREX in May 2017.

You can read more about the first portion of the TREX on this blog post. On Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram? Check out #NCTREX2015 for more photos and videos.

Would you like to participate in a future TREX? See the 2015 schedule at: https://www.conservationgateway.org/ConservationPractices/FireLandscapes/HabitatProtectionandRestoration/Training/TrainingExchanges/Pages/2015-Training-Exchanges.aspx.

By: Jennifer Evans and members of the NC TREX planning team

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