The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Fire Management Program is responsible for protecting and restoring lands in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and Pacific Islands territories.
Refuge Fire Manager Trains International Firefighters
In February 2008, six firefighters from Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico joined the first ever Spanish-language training at the National Interagency Prescribed Fire Training Center. Led by Joe Flores, Assistant Fire Management Officer at Brown’s Park National Wildlife Refuge, the group spent three weeks learning about prescribed fire and conducting burns.
Flores, who speaks Spanish, was assisted by Danny Cedeno, Engine Module Leader from Apalachicola National Forest in Florida. He has been invited back to help with international training in 2009, and also to speak at an upcoming conference in Mexico on prescribed burns.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a leader in operating the Prescribed Fire Training Center, established in 1998 in Tallahassee. The Service has been used prescribed fire as a critical tool to manage its wildfire refuges since the 1930s.
“Most of the trainees have been fighting fires for a long time, but they are just starting to learn about prescribed fire” said Flores. “I have never seen people so interested in what we do. They took pictures, wrote down information and asked questions about everything. They really wanted to learn how to burn and start doing the work back in their countries.”
Flores noted that in Mexico it is still against policy to allow for prescribed burns, but that they hope to change that policy within the next few months. “I would say that they are where we were 30 years ago — all fire suppression but no prescribed burning,” he said. Guatemala and Honduras both have limited prescribe burn programs.
The group spent 10 days of the three-week session in Tate’s Hell State Forest working with the Florida Division of Forestry, where they completed 11 prescribed burns covering a total of 3,000 acres, primarily to reduce hazardous fuels that included conifer, palmetto, grasses and shrubs.
Among the international participants were employees of The Nature Conservancy, a professor, a state Fire Management Officer and a regional fire coordinator, ranging from 27 to 50 years of age.
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