S-219: Firing Operations

S-219: Firing Operations

“Once fire is out of the can, its hard to put it back in”

Piles are covered, roads are cleared, campgrounds have been thinned, have been chipped, have been filled and vacated multiple times. It’s almost fall, it’s September already. Our Indices are high and the IFPL level went up. The chainsaw goes silent by 1pm and we have to fill in the remainders with patrols or pinecone baseball. “Snap-temper” is here, meaning the small nuances of an individuals character have been adding up all summer. Maybe the guy who was bearable in May has told the same joke one too many times. For these reasons our supervisor decided to lock us in a room for two days and get some training accomplished.

We adhered to the powerpoint, sometimes gruelingly verbatim, but were supplemented with story after story from our supervisor. The “well the thing with burning out seven and half miles of line, dude…” kind of shit. This offset our natural inclinations for pretending to go to the bathroom while instead going for a walk.

very pistol

We covered Ignition Devices: the drip torch, the Fusee, the very cool Very Pistol, the Terra Torch, the PSD machine (ping pong balls), and the Sausage Gun.

The Expectations of a Firing Boss from A Burn Boss and the Expectations of a Firing Team from A Firing Boss.

The difference between a “Burnout” and “Back-burning”.

We talked about residence time in relation to the Head Fire, the Flank and the Backing Fire.


Firing patterns were discussed: Dot, Strip, Ring, Flank, Chevron, Concentric and the difficulty in firing a saddle.

The Go/No-Go Checklist.

Conducting a Test Fire.

We were given a Past Burn Plan from a Unit done earlier this year, and the complexity and thoroughness of behind-the-scenes was made real.

The culmination of enduring 15 hours of sitting in a chair being talked to was creating an ignitions plan inside small groups, for firing division Q on the Rim Fire of 2013. The mission was to save the Rockefeller Groves which received an exorbitant amount of media attention during the fire. We were given a typically illegible map, copied off into a hazy black with vague whiteness. Is that a road or a crease from the original copy? We posted lookouts near the creases and planned the saddle to be fired, starting at the black blotchy area and working their way towards the letters or pixels.

Overall, the class was worthwhile. I was able to engage with other co-workers regarding tactics and methods of firing, and briefly was allowed the opportunity to theoretically make important firing operations. The idea that prescription fire is an art form was recurrent. I imagined the fire wizards of past and wondered how I’d fit in, amongst the greats, when I’m on in years and burns.

What I became most excited about in the wake of these lectures, were the potential opportunities to hone my approach towards these subjects and courses. Meaning, perhaps I’ll be up there someday soon, teaching this class, and what would I do differently?

At the forefront of my mind, is Documenting. I realized that my supervisor had all this information, a wealth of it stowed away in his head, but he didn’t have any maps or photographs or Google Earth images to illustrate what he’d experienced. Having to witness the canned animations from the NWCG for what a backfire is can not only be frustrating, but leaves the student feeling cheated. Like “seriously? This can’t be that important if the best we get is some cheap 20-year-old animation, probably pulled from a five and half inch floppy disk.”

Whether its a prescribed fire or wild, beginning to compile images and illustrations as I experience these events will allow me to one day present my knowledge more objectively, should I want or need to relate the information to peers or pupils.



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One Comment

  1. Heather Heward

    I stumbled upon this page as I am preparing to add the S-219 course material to a class I teach at the University of Idaho called “Prescribed burning lab” where students write burn plans, implement the burns and then write more burn plans for other units. Feel free to contact me if you want more info, we would love to have more curious students that are willing to do bold (but safe) things to improve the use of fire in our country and world!

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