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Podcasts The Big Burn: How To Survive the Age of Wildfires
The Big Burn: Setting A Forest On Fire
The Big Burn text above hills with homes on fire, four palm trees in the middle ground, and a person watching from afar in the foreground
(Dan Carino
/
LAist)
Episode 4
35:17
The Big Burn: Setting A Forest On Fire
What it’s like to put good fire to the ground. Preppi is giving a free emergency kit with any purchase over $100. Go to preppi.com/thebigburn for more information. Support for this podcast is made possible by BetterHelp. Visit betterhelp.com/bigburn today to get 10% off your first month.

Jacob Margolis  00:00

[forest ambi] Imagine, you're standing next to a friend in the middle of the forest. Dry leaves at your feet, dappled sunlight coming through the thick canopy above. [match striking] Your friend lights a match and sets it gently on the ground. [fire spreading] Here's your chance to stop it, stomp on it, pour your water bottle on the burning leaves, but it's spreading away from you, reaching its tendrils across the forest floor, wrapping around a tree, skittering up its trunk on a trail of moss on its North Face. [fire burning] You can feel the heat on your skin, smoke burning the back of your nose. Small saplings are going up in flames, and then, it hits a patch of dry vines. [fire roaring] The fire's doing everything Smokey Bear told you it shouldn't, but it's out of your hands now. So you just watch. [intense fire] I don't know about you, but my most base lizard brain says this scenario is wrong. It's dangerous. It's scary and uncontrollable. It reminds me of the times that smoke's filled my house, [sirens] of the people I've talked to who've struggled to escape flames. [emergency ambi] It's this deep feeling that fire is the enemy, that I want firefighters to rush in and [water being sprayed] put it out. [pause] In the last few episodes, we learned why we actually need good fire in a lot of our forests, that ecosystems throughout California often need it to be healthy, and that we can set smaller, more controllable fires, called prescribed burns, to clean up landscapes, burn debris like leaves and branches on the forest floor. So, when a fire comes along, the hope is that without as much fuel to burn, it won't be as destructive. [music in] But even though I know that our landscapes need more fire to prevent worse fires, the idea of it still scares me. And I think it's a fear a lot of us have, that it's at the root of why we don't set more good fire. So in this episode, I'm going to do everything my gut's telling me not to do. I'm going to travel deep into the forests of Northern California during one of our worst droughts in over 500 years, take a can of gasoline mixed with diesel, and set a forest on fire.

Chanel Keller  02:25

Our land just burned, and so I- this is, this is why [laughing] I'm so scared.

Elizabeth Azzuz  02:30

All right guys, what are you fire lighters standing around here for? [laughter] Okay, where are those drip torches? [more laughter]

Brian Crawford  02:37

And if you do that timidly, you're gonna get burned. Do it with like, intent. [people talking] Keep flaming that shit up there dude. I want all that black.

Jacob Margolis  02:45

This is The Big Burn. I'm Jacob Margolis. [music out]

Jacob Margolis  02:58

I've been really wanting to see how a prescribed burn works in person, but they're surprisingly hard to find. They're weather dependent. There's all sorts of liability and permissions issues that need to be sorted beforehand. But in February 2022, I get lucky. [driving ambi] With about a week's notice, I'm told, if I can make it to the forest deep in Northern California, I'd get a chance to see one. So, I hop on a plane and fly into a small airport in Eureka, drive deep into the Klamath Mountains past towering Douglas Fir trees, until I finally turn down a dirt road that leads me to where I'm supposed to be, outside a community center on the Yurok Reservation. [ambi people talking] A couple dozen people are milling outside, there to be a part of TREX, a prescribed fire training exchange program. And by the time I get out of my car with all my reporter gear, they're forming a circle.

Jeremy Bailey  03:49

Oh, welcome, everybody. Can we, can we close in our circle just a little bit?

Jacob Margolis  03:54

Today is all about introductions and preparation. Jeremy Bailey starts off the welcome session. He's six foot something, bearded, burly. He's part of the prescribed burn arm of The Nature Conservancy.

Jeremy Bailey  04:06

So probably within 24 hours, we're all going to be burning together, lighting something on fire.

Jacob Margolis  04:13

It's kind of chilly, so people are wearing fleeces and puffy jackets, boots for hiking. One person's baby is there, playing in the dirt. And over the next two days, we're going to be learning about what goes into doing a prescribed burn, which includes literally digging a dirt perimeter around the fire to keep it from spreading, checking the weather conditions to make sure they're just right for a burn, getting a backup crew ready with water in case things get out of hand, and of course, setting fire to the ground. But first, we start with some getting-to-know-you icebreakers.

Jeremy Bailey  04:44

One of the reasons why we spend time getting to know each other- when we're out in the woods, when we're in the brush, when we're lighting things on fire, we need to know who's who, and where they are.

Jacob Margolis  04:53

We go around the circle, saying our names, who we are, what we do. [ambi of introductions: Howdy! L'chaim.... I'm Jesse...]

Jacob Margolis  05:01

There are firefighters looking for actual experience on prescribed burns. [introduction: Hello, everyone. My name is Ricardo Lara...] And even heads of California state programs here. [intro continues: I'm the California Insurance Commissioner, and I'm from Los Angeles. Welcome... Big wig!...Making me quite nervous (laughter) (duck under)]

Jacob Margolis  05:21

There's a lawyer, videographer, and me- all hoping to see what it takes to set a good fire. Even though Jeremy starts off the session, it soon becomes clear who the kingmaker is, one of the people who decides who's allowed to be here, Margo Robbins. [Margo laughs] You can instantly recognize Margo from her laugh.

Margo Robbins  05:41

We're gonna be spending the next several days together, restoring the lands of the Yurok people. We depend on the land to continue our traditional Lifeways, for our traditional foods, our basket materials, the medicine materials... [duck under]

Jacob Margolis  06:00

Margo's smaller than Jeremy, but her energy and the way she speaks commands much more of a presence. She's a Yurok tribe member, has gray hair and a traditional face tattoo. Three dark lines running from her bottom lip down to just beneath her chin that she got as a commitment to the tradition of her people, she says. Margo's spent pretty much all of her life here, on the Yurok Reservation, trying to bring back fire to their land, after 100 plus years of neglect.

Margo Robbins  06:27

All the places that we have burned so far- we see deer in them. So it's really, really exciting that you guys have come to join us in this bringing good fire back to the land. [duck under]

Jacob Margolis  06:39

Her organization, the Cultural Fire Management Council, is hosting the TREX event in collaboration with the Yurok tribe, in part, to teach folks about the practice that Native Americans call good fire, and to get more people on the ground to help them because they've got a lot of ancestral land they want to burn. [welcome session ambi: Thank you guys very much, men and women. (applause) Thank you very much...] After the welcome session, it's time to check out the spot we'll be burning tomorrow. It's a steep hill, somewhere out in the middle of the forests, and Margo and Jeremy want us to get a lay of the land. So, we hop in the car together.

Kelly Martin  07:15

How's your leg room back there?

Margo Robbins  07:17

Uh, I got pretty long legs. You might have to move up. Ay, I'm kiddin'. I'm kiddin'. [Kelly laughs] I'm fine. [Kelly: Are you sure?] Yes.

Jeremy Bailey  07:25

Oh, isn't that beautiful?

Jacob Margolis  07:26

Look at that waterfall in the middle of the forest. Oh, my goodness. This is- This is amazing.

Jacob Margolis  07:34

On the drive, we see wild horses, hillsides packed with evergreen trees, and to be honest, at first blush, it looks just about perfect to me. But Margo sees something different.

Jacob Margolis  07:44

When you look out over this landscape now, do you see a healthy landscape? Is it a landscape [MR: No, I don't.] that you'd like to see?

Margo Robbins  07:53

Not in most places- it's not healthy. Trees are not supposed to be so crowded together. You should be able to see through the trees. This was 50% prairie land at one time, 50%. That over there- That was a big flat of all grass that went up the hill. [someone speaks in background] Yeah! There's actually a house over there and you can't even see it.

Jacob Margolis  08:19

Much of the land around us was shaped by the history that we talked about with Cutcha Risling Baldy in the last episode. Gold was discovered. Native Americans were murdered. Fire was outlawed and suppressed. The reason the trees are so crowded is because Douglas Firs, the tall evergreen conifer trees, were protected for timber. Over time, the hills filled with them. And the ecosystems that the Yurok people had long maintained, were thrown out of balance. The hillsides became nearly impossible to hike through and hunt, and no longer sustained in the same way that traditional medicines, basket making materials, and food stores that have long been really important to the Yurok people.

Margo Robbins  08:59

A big uh, contributor to, to why our land is like this is because people treat it as a resource to be exploited and not a resource to be kept healthy, that has rights in and of itself, that- it's not just us here on this land. There's many other things that deserve to live in a healthy environment. And as capitalists, they don't seem to really care about a healthy environment.

Jacob Margolis  09:32

As we chat in the car, Margo says she's worried about the elders, that if a fire comes along, it'll be harder for them to escape on overgrown back roads. Margo and plenty of other Native people in these areas have long known that things aren't the way they should be. And she says that some people have gone out and burned on their own, as they'd long been taught, as their ancestors did, and experienced dire consequences.

Jacob Margolis  09:56

So you know- you know people who have been arrested as a result of doing burns? [MR: Yeah.] Jailed? Are they still around by any chance?

Margo Robbins  10:07

One of 'em is. One of 'em passed on.

Jacob Margolis  10:14

Are they nearby? And do you think they'd be willing to talk?

Margo Robbins  10:16

Oh, I don't know. I'm not gonna give out any names. You can still go to prison for starting in unauthorized fire. It's not like it's something in our past. And prior to uh, them imprisoning people, they just shot us. So, that was a pretty effective measure at stopping people from doing their own burning.

Jacob Margolis  10:42

Margo's working to fix things and is doing it by the government's book, a process that can be cumbersome and slow. All across California, there are tens of millions of acres of forests that need treatment. This spot we're driving to- they're only going to burn about 30 acres or so. And it took months of prep and jumping through a whole lot of legal hoops to even burn this small space. [car interior ambi] We drive up a dirt road wide enough for about a car and a half, swerving around ruts and big holes, a steep drop off on one side. [people talking] We park and meet up with the rest of the group, who are a little distracted at the moment.

Jeremy Bailey  11:21

You see Peanut Butter? We found her on the road. [MR: When?] That little dog? When we were on our way up here. [MR: Just now?] Yeah. [MR: Awww.] She's all skinny and-

Margo Robbins  11:36

Looks like she needs some- a sandwich. [laughs]

Jacob Margolis  11:36

Margo heads down a steep hill, and I stumble behind her. She's gonna show the group exactly what we'll be facing tomorrow. Not just overgrown trees, but thickets of poison oak and invasive Himalayan blackberries. She also explains why they're burning this particular spot.

Margo Robbins  11:47

All throughout this whole stretch, there's lots and lots and lots of hazel for baskets. So that is one of our primary reasons for choosing this place to burn.

Jacob Margolis  12:00

There are all sorts of reasons to put good fire back on the land. Sometimes it's done by firefighters during a prescribed burn, just to lessen fuel load. And then there's the type of burning that Margo is doing, which is similar to prescribed burning, but there are cultural reasons for it as well. [music in] What a lot of people call cultural burning- that goes far beyond lessening fuel load and protecting against high severity fire. This practice is also a spiritual one, focused on what's good not just for humans, but the world around us. Margo's thinking about how fire will restore this landscape and how it can help plants that are important to the Yurok people. Hazel, for instance, only after it's burned, does it produce the types of shoots that the Yurok people need- straight enough that they can then be woven into things like eating bowls, and baskets for newborns, something Margo has a lot of experience doing. [music out]

Margo Robbins  12:55

So, you have to burn the hazel a year before it's good. And then, so like what we burn here, we'll be able to pick next spring, and there'll be like about a three-week window where you can pick and then you have to peel all of them. And then you have to size 'em all up because the way to make a nice one is to have all the same size sticks. And then the actual weaving part would take me about a week, not like all day, but you can only weave so long with sticks and your hands get all sore and so, but I could get one done in about a week. I make a baby basket for every one of my grandkids, and I have 11 now. [MR laughs] [people mumble in background]

Jacob Margolis  13:43

In this area, there are also a whole bunch of medicinal plants that need taking care of.

Margo Robbins  13:47

There's also medicinal teas. Uh, Yerba Buena- Is that the string tea? Is that Yerba Buena, Cody? Do you know? [mumbling] Yeah, we always just call it "Injun Tea." [laughs] [someone says, Well, it's all Indian tea.] Yeah, yeah. As well as um, there's wormwood in here. Wormwood- If those of you who catch poison oak, wormwood will help with poison oak, also with scrapes, cuts, abrasions. People will get really nervous when they see the fire going up the tree, but it's actually good for it because it'll kill those bugs in that, in that moss. So unless it's like going really good and it's slung over the line, there's no reason to worry about it. [mumbling]

Jacob Margolis  14:32

What I'm learning is there's a lot of technique and art to setting fire. [music in] Margo's considering things like the slope of hills, the moisture of the plants and leaves, and how hot it'll be- to make sure that when they set fire tomorrow, the fire does what she needs it to do. This piece of land for instance, hasn't burned in so long that she needs the fire to burn extra hot to clear out all the brush that's built up, to help the hazel grow. [music out]

Jeremy Bailey  15:02

[end of day ambi] Margo is breakfast at 7am? [MR: That's what I was thinking.] And briefing at eight? [MR: Yeah.] Okay.

Jacob Margolis  15:06

As night falls, we drive back to the auditorium, and everyone says their good nights. [end of day ambi continues] It's really dark in these remote mountains. My cell still doesn't have reception, and the Internet only sometimes works. So I just lie in the back of my car on a blow-up mattress, [crickets] trying to get some rest for the big day tomorrow. After the break, a safety meeting that makes me feel a bit more nervous about things. [break]

Brian Crawford  15:41

So Chanel, you EMT or, or what? [Chanel: Yeah, I'm EMT...]

Jacob Margolis  15:45

The next day is Burn Day, and before I've even had time for my coffee, everyone is breaking up into different groups. One of them is a safety meeting being led by a gruff looking guy with long dark hair named Brian Crawford.

Brian Crawford  15:55

Anyone else with any sort of medical experience?

Jacob Margolis  15:57

Who's making it clear that just because the fire we're setting is good, doesn't mean there's no risk.

Brian Crawford  16:03

In every single training that I've ever been a part of, you are going to most likely get something called an "incident within an incident." That is- we're probably going to train you on, someone gets hurt, whether it's slip, trip, fall, uh blunt object, uh saw cut- whatever it's gonna be, how do we handle that while still managing a burn? [duck under]

Jacob Margolis  16:24

So, I find out you've got to watch where people are burning, or you could get caught in thick brush as it catches on fire around you. And then I find out about the possibility of getting killed by something falling from above.

Brian Crawford  16:35

Who does not know what a widow maker is? [JM: I didn't.] Widow maker is a piece of woody material that's stuck in a tree. It's broken out and it's normally pointing straight down. They can fall out of the tree from wind, it hits you in the head, possibly dead, making you a widow, or your wife, or someone, a widow. [someone speaks: ...life partner eliminated.... (laughter)] Always look up, always look up, always look up.

Jacob Margolis  17:01

Brian's now dedicated to doing as much prescribed burning as possible. He's a prescribed fire specialist with the US Forest Service. But it wasn't always like that for him. For 22 years, he was a wildland firefighter, largely trying to just put fires out on helitack and hotshot crews, loving the battle. Until one day, he decided he was done.

Brian Crawford  17:22

I've seen too many people hurt. I've seen or known people who have died. And to me, the mission of suppression just isn't worth it. I believe in prescribed fire.

Jacob Margolis  17:35

There was one specific incident that changed his whole perspective. [music in] He'd had his spine crushed by a falling tree while out on a fire. But that wasn't what did it. It was when he was laying there, recovering, watching TV.

News Anchor  17:48

[audio clip] Shooting flames, strong shifting winds, conditions too dangerous for crews...

Jacob Margolis  17:54

He saw that a big fire was burning in Arizona, and he realized he knew some of the guys fighting it.

News Anchor  17:59

[audio clip] Officials can't give an exact day for Yarnell residents. Firefighters say it's just too dangerous to let people in. The sheriff...

Jacob Margolis  18:06

Like other fires he'd fought, this fire in Arizona was turning bad in part because so many homeowners hadn't done the right kind of property prep- hadn't cleared brush and trees from around their places, one of the main things firefighting agencies recommend people do to stop homes from burning and to protect firefighters who are expected to save property.

Brian Crawford  18:29

When I woke up that day and realized that 19 people were dead, trying to protect a community- It's like that all over the Western US. You've got communities, right, wrong, or indifferent, that are just a defensible nightmare for fire crews. And we keep putting fire crews in there- try to make a difference. But so many times, those residents are not motivated and not willing to do the work themselves. And so yeah, that day when I woke up in bed, you know, in a neck brace, [pause] most likely sustained by injuries from fire suppression, [pause] I just didn't believe in it anymore. I'm over this. I'm done. [music out]

Jacob Margolis  19:21

Brian and other firefighters I've talked to- they're tired of the Sisyphean task of trying to defend the same homes over and over again, putting their lives on the line when residents won't do the bare minimum to help themselves. [outdoor ambi] A nice distraction from Brian's unnerving safety meeting was 10-month-old Kitt.

Jacob Margolis  19:43

How old are you?

Chanel Keller  19:44

She's ten months.

Jacob Margolis  19:45

[baby sounds] Oh my gosh. Oh my gosh. You are so happy. I saw you playing in the dirt yesterday and I was like, [CK laughs] you are just thrilled. You're so sweet. [CK coos at Kitt: Yeah.] So sweet...

Jacob Margolis  19:58

Kitt isn't going to go out on any of the burns with the group, but her mom, Chanel Keller, will. Like me, Chanel's never done a burn like this before although she has seen fire working as a volunteer firefighter near Big Sur. And she and I got to talking about our kids, how much I missed mine, and about the risks out in the forest.

Chanel Keller  20:17

It's always a thought in the back of your head when you're working with fire that something's going to happen because you- they drill into your head, you know, the, all of the people that have died so that you can learn from their mistakes and not make them again.

Jacob Margolis  20:30

Chanel's part of the Esselen Tribe. She came to this event to learn about cultural burning, so she could bring the techniques back home with her. And on top of that, she's fighting her own training, to not see fire as the enemy.

Chanel Keller  20:41

I've never done drip torch. These are like- I'm like so scared. [laughs] [people talking in background: You got this.] Well, I, I, I- like when they were describing how to like light it and like put it on the ground, I was like, oh my God, this is real. [laughs]

Jacob Margolis  20:57

After the break, they burn. [break]

Jacob Margolis  20:59

Later in the day, we drive back out on that bumpy road to the burn site. [ambi people talking] Before a drop of flaming fuel hits the ground, Margo and Jeremy and a bunch of other people have gone through the tedious bureaucratic process of getting permission to do this burn, [music in] detailing the coordinates of exactly where they're burning, the kind of landscape they're burning, and their objectives. They've gotten approval from the air district that it's okay to put smoke in the air. During some parts of the year, they'd need approval from CalFire as well. [pause] The group's gathered at the top of the hill because they'll be burning down the slope. Everyone's dressed in full Nomex fire resistant shirts and pants, helmets to protect from flying things, and fireproof boots in case they step in holes of hot ash, which, by the way, I don't have, and am regretting, because I'd prefer not to melt the skin off my legs. There's been a lot of hurry up and wait, so there's a sense of excitement in the air because it's time to get stuff done. One of the first big steps to getting a prescribed burn going is to break people off into different groups. Brian's crew is getting ready to jump onto the super steep hill and to use hand tools to carve a line in the brush, to outline the area they're burning, to make sure that they can keep the fire contained.

Brian Crawford  22:20

So, carry your tool downhill hand or two hands in front of your body so you don't land on a tool. Um, tool like this has a big sharp edge, definitely sharp enough to go through you...

Jacob Margolis  22:37

Other people hop into a truck with a big water tank on it that they can use to spray down any errant embers that sneak past containment lines. And then there are the people preparing to set the fires, picking up these red metal cans with what looks like long straws at the end.

Participant  22:54

...pretty nasty. So who here knows how to prepare drip torch? Okay, so if- those of you who don't know, watch...

Jacob Margolis  23:04

Filling them up with gas and diesel, when they're ready, they'll set them on fire and drip the fuel onto the dry brush.

Participant  23:11

This is the bleeder. So this is where air gets in. You wanna, when you actually want to light, you want to unscrew that because otherwise it's also not going to let gas out, and depending on how open it is, you get more or less fuel to it.

Jacob Margolis  23:25

Most importantly, they're talking about how to stay safe while they're lighting fires around each other. And how they'll walk as a group in a sort of zigzag pattern down the mountain to keep things burning. And then, the group checks the weather to make sure that it's both dry and warm enough to burn.

Participant  23:41

Uh, dry bulb temperature is 61 degrees, down 2 from a half an hour previous, relative humidity 50%, up 7 from half an hour previous. [duck under]

Jacob Margolis  23:51

And they clearly state their intentions behind why they're burning.

Claire  23:54

The resource goals are to enhance and restore Oak woodlands and other forest resources important to the Yurok people by reducing competing vegetation, providing enhanced habitat for wildlife and other cultural resources, and protecting water flow and quality to waterways. [people talking in background]

Jacob Margolis  24:14

Then, it's time to prep the vegetation. With the chainsaw crew pulling their rope starts and jumping into the waist high brush to cut it down and make it more passable for the torch holders, Brian's team jumps in and starts chopping away to establish the perimeter. I jump downhill with them at one point, and then I slip and slide on the steep slope, my boots sinking into the soft forest dirt, and it's a struggle to get back up. I'm a bit harried, not knowing where to go or what to do. And I feel a bit like a goober, like super far out of my element. [music out] [forest ambi] Once every little thing is ready, we hike back up to the top of the hill and the group falls silent, listening to the forest, the sound of the wind in the trees, the river off in the distance. It's time for the ceremony. By the way, I actually got this tape from the next day. But this is what it sounds like- with Elizabeth Azzuz, who's also Yurok, leading the burn with Margo beside her.

Elizabeth Azzuz  25:16

Grandfather, grandmother. See us here, your children, your grandchildren, and your great-grandchildren as the seven generations of the future ask for guidance from the seven generations of the past. Help us to restore the land, guide us in the proper way to work with fire. Help us to restore the land for our food and our medicine for the four-leggeds and the one-legged tree people, for the winged brothers and sisters and our aquatic life that all help to sustain us. Help us to restore our hazel and our beargrass and all of our amazing basket plants that we need in order to carry our babies, to sustain our bodies, to build our baskets that are so important to us. Please protect all of these people that have come here from all over the United States, around the world just to help us to restore our environment. Protect them, watch over them, guide us, guide our hands, protect us. [chanting]

Jacob Margolis  26:23

A ceremonial bundle of wormwood, angelica root, and sticks covered in pitch is lit, then set to the ground to get the fire started. [singing]

Elizabeth Azzuz  27:06

All right guys, what are you fire-lighters standing around here for? [laughter and yelling] [MR: Go forth and set your own fires!] [MR laughs] Okay, where are those drip torches?

Jacob Margolis  27:12

[fire ambi] When the fire takes off spreading through the dry leaves, I feel this pit in my stomach. [music in] The same sort of feeling I get when I smell smoke on a dry, windy night. And a voice in my head starts going Hey, hey, hey, like there's a fire spreading. We should probably do something about it. I flash through every disastrous fire I've reported on. But the fire-lighters don't stop. They're snaking back and forth across a steep hill right in front of me, throwing globules of fuel all over the dry leaves. And all of a sudden, the fire is everywhere. [music out] Meanwhile, Brian's hollering orders.

Brian Crawford  28:12

And if you do that timidly, you're gonna get burned. Do it with like, [someone talks in background] intent.

Jacob Margolis  28:16

To set more fire, throw more fuel, reminding people, they're there to make it burn hot for the hazel.

Brian Crawford  28:22

Keep flaming that shit up there, dude. I want all that black.

Jacob Margolis  28:26

Brian and I are moving laterally across the hill, following the people setting the fire. And you can see when it hits leaves that have been sitting in a shady spot, the fire kind of has trouble catching, but then it hits a blackberry bramble that's been sitting in a patch of sun, and it just explodes. Even from 10 feet away, the heat is just too much [talking in background] and you gotta move.

Brian Crawford  28:50

Yeah, I believe it was uh, bumped down the line. I'm in the middle. [walkie talkie: Copy.]

Jacob Margolis  28:53

Led by the pros, the dance becomes clear. They light something on fire. It rages and eventually calms down and smolders, clearing out brush, leaving the larger trees licked by fire, but still alive. [talking in background]

Jacob Margolis  29:16

We end the day when the sun has set. There are even more safety checks as people walk around the burn area to make sure the fire's gone out. Though the hill is still smoldering, it's cool enough and wet enough outside that it's not going to sustain any sort of blaze. All has gone according to plan. [pause] Later, I catch up with Chanel, who spent all day digging lines and putting fire on the ground.

Chanel Keller  29:41

Watching Elizabeth put the fire to the ground, I felt the heaviness of that moment and the sacredness of that moment for her. And then the stillness and the quiet of everyone watching it, kind of, creep. I didn't have the fear really. I, I, I was amazed. I was like, enthralled by it. And then once I saw it started taking, then I had that fear come back in me as a fire suppression person, [laughing] as a firefighter for uh, six years. So it went from, like spiritual significance to watching it creep, to Oh, fuck, I hope I don't die, [laughs] when it started creeping, because I've never seen a fire just move across like that intentionally, like on purpose. I was like, whoa, that's moving fast. [laughs] And they were like, no, it's okay. Like just, just watch. And so, I literally stared at the fire. And as I was looking at it, I saw it put itself out. [music in] And then I realized the purpose of this activity, and it was to get us comfortable, and to have us understand that the fire can put itself out.

Jacob Margolis  31:05

I feel a lot of what Chanel is saying. This whiplash between oh, no and oh man, this is totally awesome. There's an endorphin rush by the end, a kind of release, a giddy feeling, because it's one of the first times in my life a fire outside of a fireplace has been a positive experience. Fire that's not negatively associated with climate change but is actually meant to protect against it. A fire that even I can't find the bad side of. I really wish every one of you could experience it too. Because to not fear fire for a minute, to see something positive come out of flames on a dry hillside- it makes me sad all the years I've spent feeling any other way, not really understanding that this had always been possible. [music out]

Jacob Margolis  32:04

The burn that day was successful. But there are long term questions about whether this spot will not just be fully restored but kept healthy. See, burning isn't something you do once and walk away. Often times, if a place is left alone for long enough, and fire's suppressed, it's only a matter of time before everything's out of whack again. [music in] There's a widespread agreement that these are the kinds of burns that we need to be doing in different spots all across California and in plenty of other places too. Prescribed fire and burning for cultural reasons, can help make our forests healthier and more resilient to climate change. But if you ask the people who've been trying to make more burning happen, they'll tell you, we're not doing nearly enough, because we are standing in our own way. [music out]

Chanel  32:56

[music in] There were a lot of hold ups within CalFire. They're much more a fire suppression agency. They put fires out and the prescribed fire thing is not, it's not their space where they thrive.

Jacob Margolis  33:10

That's next episode on The Big Burn.

Jacob Margolis  33:13

A special thanks to Bill Tripp, Will Harling, Kelly Martin, and every other kind and generous person that welcomed me and took time out of their day to talk to me while I was up in the Klamath area. The Big Burn is created, written, reported, and hosted by me, Jacob Margolis. Shana Naomi Krochmal is our Vice President of Podcasts. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the executive producers for LAist Studios. Our producer is Minju Park with additional production by Anjuli Sastry Krbecheck. Bruno Lopez-Vega is our intern. Natalie Chudnovsky is our senior producer. Editing by Meg Cramer. Fact checking by Caitlin Antonios. Professor Theresa Gregor is our Native cultural content reader. Sound design and mixing by E. Scott Kelly. Original music by Andy Clausen. Our website LAist.com is designed by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at LAist Studios. The marketing team of LAist Studios created our branding. Artwork for this show by Dan Carino. Thanks to the team at LAist Studios, including Taylor Coffman, Sabir Brara, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Andy Orozco, Michael Cosentino, and Leo G. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live, the Strelow Family, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. The Big Burn is a production of LAist Studios. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. [music out]