A group of 19 experienced prescribed burners are gathered in Eureka this week to become certified as prescribed fire burn bosses. The group is the first cohort to participate in the California State-Certified Burn Boss course, part of a certification program that was mandated by legislation in 2018, but was only recently finalized and approved. The course, hosted in Eureka by University of California Cooperative Extension, is a full week session and includes topics from laws, regulations, and permits to burn planning and smoke management.
"With each catastrophic wildfire season in California, the importance of prescribed fire becomes more clear," said Lenya Quinn-Davidson, University of California Cooperative Extension fire advisor, who is hosting the class in Eureka. "Prescribed fire is one of the most ecologically appropriate and cost-effective tools available, and provides innumerable benefits in California's fire-adapted landscapes. Prescribed burning is used to reduce fuels and wildfire risk, but also to restore habitat, control invasive species, improve rangelands, and promote cultural resources and values."
California is remarkably behind when it comes to implementing prescribed fire, she said. While states like Florida burn up to 2 million acres a year, California typically burns less than 100,000 acres statewide. It's clear that fire agencies can't meet the need for this work on their own — collaboration with local communities and leaders is essential.
The new program will certify prescribed fire practitioners who don't work for a fire management agency but are leading prescribed burning in their communities. This week's inaugural class in Eureka includes retired federally qualified burn bosses, tribal burn bosses, and leaders from state and local agencies and nonprofit organizations. Once certified by the state, these burn bosses will be able to share liability with CAL FIRE on prescribed burns.
“We've needed something like this in California for a long time, but never thought we'd see it happen. This is a historic moment for prescribed fire in California,” said Quinn-Davidson, who also leads the Northern California Prescribed Fire Council, and is currently being consulted for legislation that would break down even more barriers to prescribed fire.
In the last several years, more than a dozen community-based prescribed burn associations have developed throughout California. Many of these groups were inspired by the Humboldt County Prescribed Burn Association, which was the first of its kind in the western U.S. when it formed in 2018.
When these newly certified burn bosses leave Eureka, they will be able to go home and lift up efforts on their local landscapes, contributing to fire resilience across the state.