Fighting wildfires with 'good fires'

It’s no secret that the Pacific Northwest is prone to wildfires during warmer months. Even inside the city limits of Ashland, certain areas with dense vegetation can be at risk for wildfires.

The Fire Learning Network (FLN) and the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network (FACLN) collaborated for a four-day learning exchange in Ashland from Monday through Thursday this week to try and lessen wildfire risk.

The two networks, although similar in names, have different jobs when it comes to fire safety in the community. They both work in educating the community and allowing collaboration between professionals, citizens and agency staff to have safe systems in areas prone to fire. The networks allow for people to learn from each other, just on different levels.

The Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network works to enable communities to adapt to fire and make homes safer. The Fire Learning Network aims to accelerate the restoration of broader areas of land, such as the hills and forests, that depend on and are prone to fire to survive, according to Darren Borgias, program director of the workshop.

“We brought together the Fire Learning Network and the Fire Adapted Communities Learning Network to talk about restoring resilient forest and working with good fire,” said Borgias. “We’re setting the stage for the return of good fire.”

Returning “good fire” to the landscape means working with willing landowners to develop plans to release fire under appropriate conditions for the benefits both to nature and people, according to Borgias.

“It helps make the forest safer and potentially reduces the potential severity of a wildfire in the future,” said Borgias. “It won’t make it go away, fire will come, but there’s work we’re doing to help secure more benefit from the fire.”

The workshop was led by FACLN and FLN in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative. More than 50 organizations from the Rogue Valley, other areas of Oregon, California, Washington and Colorado attended over the course of the workshop, including members of the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.

Many aspects of fire safety and prevention were discussed, including communication within communities to help prevent of wildfire and cohesive strategies between organizations.

Participants took tours of the surrounding Ashland area where controlled burns took place in May.

“We learned more about the role of fire in nature and our culture’s relationship with fire and how we can change that relationship for the benefit of the community,” said Borgias.

The learning exchange was part of a three-part workshop. The first took place in Deschutes and the second in Leavenworth, Washington. The objective of the workshop was to allow visiting organizations to learn more about Southern Oregon’s strategies in adapting to wildfire, and in part to share their own knowledge.

One detail visiting organizations found beneficial in Southern Oregon was the political support, according to Michelle Medley-Daniel, co-director of FACLN.

“I think that’s something they’re trying to enhance in their own places,” said Medley-Daniel. “People were really interested in how the (Ashland) mayor (John Stromberg) welcomed us and was involved and as engaged as he was.”

A popular portion of the workshop, open to the public was a lecture given by Dr. Stephen Pyne, environmental historian, given at Southern Oregon University on Wednesday. The lecture described society’s evolution towards fire as reflected through U.S. Forest Service policy and the way people respond to wildfire.

Borgias stressed how controlled burns benefit the environment. By reducing the amount of vegetation, such as underbrush and dry saplings, that can easily catch fire, it allows future wildfires to not be as dangerous. It also reduces the risk of soil erosion from patches of dead trees and allows native plants and grasses to flourish in the open area, which is often the food base of wildlife, according to Borgias.

“When it’s burning across the landscape and manageable, we get more of the benefits of wildfire, rather than the detriments,” said Borgias.

Email Tidings intern Caitlin Fowlkes at


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