Fred Bassett with a drip torch executing a prescribed burn

Winter is an important time to assess, prepare, and lead prescribed fires, for members of ACR's Fire Forward team and the Good Fire Alliance. This late January, Fred Bassett and Catherine Conner reached out to us to train their Sebastopol neighborhood on essential principles of safe, prescribed burns that occur in winter. A video towards the end of this article includes footage from this recent winter burn. 

Why winter burns?

Winter offers an opportunity to help our neighbors learn how to manage fuels, and use good fire under low-risk conditions. Weather and soil tend to be more wet in winter, especially for Sonoma and Marin County, where members of Fire Forward and Good Fire Alliance act most often.

Typically, long, damp nights and green meadows are two factors that can help reduce the risk of an unwieldy fire. On the day of this burn on Fred and Catherine’s one-acre property, members of the Fire Forward team had to delay the prescribed burn until early afternoon to find the sweet spot where the sunlight dried the light fuels enough, so that they could carry fire in continuous patches. A large part of this, Fred explains, "is to cut down on fuel load as much as we can."

Fred and Catherine reached out to members of Fire Forward by filling out a survey to see if a burn was right for their property and neighborhood. They also hired people and worked with neighbors to knock down, or masticate, giant walls of Himalayan blackberry before the burn. This helped re-arrange the fuel load for more manageable and reliable, short flame lengths and manage the overall fire behavior when the burn would occur.

"A year ago this was ten feet high in [Himilayan] blackberry; what we are hoping to do is cut down on as much fuel as we can in this one acre area of our property.” -Fred Bassett

Fred and Catherine are also working towards restoration of the riparian corridor on their property. They hope that this prescribed burn helps the beautiful, standing willow trees and ninebark shrubs flourish.

  • Catherine Conner and Fred Bassett leading a safe, winter burn on their property.
  • Grassy area next to a cleared blackberry area with smoke from winter burn.
  • Low-lying smoke in oak woodland and riparian habitat.
  • Neighbor helping Fred and Catherine with their winter burn
  • Sasha Berleman, Director of Fire Forward, reviewing the winter burn perimeter
  • Robin, a neighbor, holding a drip torch and burning a small area.
  • Wendy holding a drip torch across smoky ground
  • Fred Bassett smiling after a day of community-building and ecosystem restoration

Neighbors connect over prescribed burning and habitat restoration

Fire Forward, a program of Audubon Canyon Ranch, brings a unique blend of science-based program design and community organizing to our region. Sasha Berleman, director of the Fire Forward program at Audubon Canyon Ranch, makes it clear that when it comes to winter burning, a successful day is one where community-building happens.

"We're here today to help support some community burning and learning together along this riparian corridor. It's part of both fuels reduction and some riparian corridor restoration work,” Berleman says to the group gathered at the morning briefing. Neighbors showed up with curiosity and interest around what safe, effective fire stewardship looks like. Several people held drip torches for the first time and expressed how connected they felt to be united in a vision larger than themselves.

A key part of prescribed burning, for any neighborhood, is working together to get “good fire” back on the land. Thanks to everyone who made that happen this past week, including Fred, Catherine, members of Fire Forward and Good Fire Alliance, and of course—all the neighbors who showed up, ready and willing to help. 

If you enjoyed this article, please share it with a friend. You can also learn more about winter burning in the North Bay and how to get involved @fire.forward.