Pile Burning with Ventura County Prescribed Burn Association

Rincon Consultants, Inc. recently participated in a two-day Pile Burning workshop hosted by the Ventura County Prescribed Burn Association (VCPBA) and Ventura County Resource Conservation District (VCRCD). Fuel reduction projects for wildfire prevention and preparedness in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) are an important part of the ongoing efforts throughout California and the American West. Understanding of regional comfortability, methodology, and current best practices are a vital step in expanding Rincon’s suite of Wildfire Protection Services. Planning and permitting prescribed burning projects can be complicated, with requirements varying by location. Incorporating prescribed burning into a wildland fuels management strategy or Community Wildfire Protection Plan is a proven nature-based solution, and Rincon is diving in.  

Jamie Whiteford, RCD District Scientist lighting the pile.

A most sincere and appreciative thank you to the VCPBA and VCRCD for hosting the workshop. Collaborators and attendees spanned from private landowners, educators, firefighters, practitioners, regulators Ventura Regional Firesafe Council Staff, and more. An initial training day at the Taft Gardens and Nature  Preserve in Mira Monte consisted of in-classroom and in-field hands-on instruction. The course was taught by Woody Bouska from Sure-Fire Training and Debbie Mayer USFS (ret.), who used their decades of combined wildfire and wildfire prevention experience to share appropriate planning and implementation guidelines for this vital tool in wildfire prevention for the WUI. Attendees were taught about appropriate PPE, fire behavior parameters, weather parameters, contingency planning, and medical emergency preparedness. Staff from the Ventura County Air Pollution Control District and Ventura County Fire Department gave instruction on county burn permit acquisition and the burn day go/no-go process. Day one concluded with an in-field exercise examining an improperly constructed and unsafely located agriculture burn pile. Participants deconstructed and rebuilt the pile in a safe manner to the approval of County Fire.

Nearly an hour into the burn

Nearly time for mop-up operations

The second day of instruction brought us to a residential/agricultural home site in Thousand Oaks. Here, a year’s worth of agricultural debris had been collected and piled to the size of a small RV in a safe location to burn. Ventura County Fire Department firefighters from Crews 11 and 13 were on site with tankers and equipment as well as a wildland firefighting hand crew from Consumer Fire Products, Inc. Instruction began with drip torch assembly and use, followed by team weather assessment, and probability of ignition (PIG) field calculation. With safety as the paramount focus, the pile was lit in a conservation burning method to ideally create biochar for the landowner and result in significantly less smoke. Due to recent rains and the discontinuity of fuels, biochar production was not a complete success.

Crews with hand tools and hoses to completely extinguish the pile.

Instruction and anecdotal experiences were available throughout the burn. Neighbors came to help and participate, dogs wandered around, and spot fires were started to teach suppression and control techniques. After approximately four hours of burn time, the mop-up process began. Around twenty firefighters in appropriate firefighting PPE with tools and hoses took about an hour to safely extinguish the remnants of the pile. This consisted of multiple rounds of heat checks and re-checks which hammered home how tricky fires of this size can be to control.  

The class ended with a comprehensive analysis of the day’s proceedings including an assessment of the project’s success. The two-day course was valuable hands-on instruction for the implementation of safe pile burns in Ventura County. The skills imparted to attendees will undoubtedly inform future planning efforts and result in safer wildland fuel reduction moving forward.  

Thank you to all involved!