On a mild, clear November morning, I traveled to POST-protected San Vicente Redwoods near Davenport in the Santa Cruz Mountains. People passing by might’ve done a double-take at my flashy outfit and accessories. I wore a heavy, bright yellow and green protective uniform and wielded a rake hoe and helmet. I was suited up to help light a good fire in the forest. 

Before you panic, you should know that the flames I’d arrived to ignite were part of a prescribed burn, a purposeful, contained fire led by CAL FIRE and supported by our conservation partners — POST, Sempervirens Fund, Save the Redwoods League and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County. This was a massive effort involving over 80 well-equipped staff and volunteers, eight fire engines and a bulldozer. The purpose was to lessen the intensity of future wildfires, improve wildlife habitat and help fire-dependent plant species to thrive. This prescribed fire covered over 30 acres — it was the largest one at San Vicente Redwoods to date.

Using professional equipment, trained staff safely ignite and monitor the flames during a prescribed fire:

Lighting fires to prevent fires may come off as counterintuitive. Backed by both science and traditional ecological knowledge, this time-honored practice goes back thousands of years. Prescribed burns — also known as “good fire” — are vital for improving the ecosystem’s health and clearing out the excess fuel on forest floors. That way, when wildfires do occur, they tend to burn at a lower intensity causing less damage. Hear more about good fire from San Vicente Redwoods Property Manager Nadia Hamey in this fantastic webinar (tune in at around the two minute mark).


Click to Zoom In.

We saw first hand how effective prescribed fire can be at reducing the intensity of wildfire. We conducted a 20-acre prescribed burn in February of 2020, just six months before the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

As you can see from the image (right), taken after the CZU Fire, the strip of green trees where our prescribed fire took place stands in stark contrast to the devastated forest adjacent to it. This was all the evidence we needed to scale up our efforts to reintroduce good fire to San Vicente Redwoods — one of our key strategies to create a fire-resilient landscape. 


In 2020, alongside my neighbors in the Santa Cruz Mountains, I experienced the devastating CZU Lightning Complex Fire up close. While processing my grief, I felt called to pitch in on recovery efforts. My knowledge of land management, landscape features and our region overall would come in handy. I also had the physical ability to haul, lift, load, schlep, dig in the ground, carry lots of weight and use chainsaws. Even so, I was in no way trained to work near a fire and join in the cause.

All that changed in 2021 once the Central Coast Prescribed Burn Association was formed. Serving Santa Cruz, San Benito and Monterey Counties, this network of experts includes ranchers, researchers, tribal members, foresters, firefighters, land trust staff and more. Everyone applies their respective strengths to bringing good fire back to the land.

A selfie of Lindsay Dillon, a good fire practitioner, wearing her protective gear at the scene of a prescribed burn.
Good fire practitioner, reporting for duty!

Under the Central Coast PBA’s guidance, I officially became a good fire practitioner that autumn. In more technical terms, I got certified as a Type 2 Wildland Firefighter! Now, I’m trained to serve on a crew that suppresses fire and manages fuel, including controlled burns. Getting curious about fire was a transformative experience for me, and the antidote to many of my fears. Now that I understand fire behavior better, I revere it.

Working alongside other trusted experts is a powerful experience. We learn to create the safest conditions possible while being nimble, alert and aware. With the right specialists on deck, you can ensure the fire is well-contained, minimize the level of smoke and keep flames out of the canopy where they’re more likely to spread.

Handling fire is a serious responsibility. It requires plenty of vigilance to stay hydrated, maintain situational awareness and look out for yourself and others. It also takes meticulous planning and the level of high-stakes coordination you might associate with an elaborate ballet or a space mission.


You may be wondering about now: if this practice is so effective, why aren’t we doing it more often? Some big factors are the significant time and resources it takes to pull off a prescribed fire. Many months of thoughtful planning must go into getting it right. It’s complicated, but it’s one of the best tools in our toolbox. 

Two fire engines and a crew of staff wearing protective gear look on as smoke rises in the distance.
It takes plenty of resources to pull off a prescribed fire.

The ingredients for a successful prescribed fire include:

  • A large crew of certified people equipped with the right tools and protective personal equipment (PPE)
  • A chain of command to ensure the effort runs smoothly
  • A fleet of vehicles and fire engines for getting around, plus quads for off-road transportation
  • Functional radio communications, and backup systems in case those fail
  • Ideal weather conditions in terms of wind, humidity and heat, and in a perfect world, rain coming soon after the burn’s complete
  • Knowledge about the area’s vegetation and how it might react to fire
  • The right mix of pre-fire prep work, such as removing dead trees and cutting back scrub to create containment lines
  • The requisite permits, and a certified Burn Boss to manage and carry out the prescription
  • Multiple channels for alerting community members about upcoming burns in their area
  • Money to pay for all the items above!

With so many parameters to sort out, you’ve got to think ahead. Fortunately, with a big team of experienced good fire practitioners, our carefully executed burn was a great success.


Becoming a crew member for prescribed fires has been both rewarding and empowering. If you also feel called to operate a drip-torch while sporting protective footwear, I encourage you to get trained just like I did! But there are plenty of other ways to get involved. Educating yourself about good fire through your local prescribed burn association is a great place to start. If you’d like to help, but field work isn’t your idea of fun, prescribed burn associations run on grants, often by volunteers. If you have administrative skills to offer, reach out to your local prescribed burn association.  

And if you’re a resident of Santa Cruz County, keep an eye out this November for a Water and Wildfire Protection bond measure. Your vote could help provide funding that supports important work, just like this prescribed burn at San Vicente Redwoods.


Video Credit: Lauren Korth and Susan Petrie

About Post

Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) protects open space on the Peninsula and in the South Bay for the benefit of all. Since its founding in 1977, POST has been responsible for saving more than 87,000 acres as permanently protected land in San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Learn more

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