A common misconception is that fire is always bad, that it destroys landscapes and tears communities apart. When settlers arrived in the American West, wildfire suppression became a standard practice. What many did not realize is that the suppression of fire allowed for fuel loads to build, causing larger, hotter, and more destructive wildfires.
Today, landowners and conservation groups understand the importance of fire and are now prescribing low-intensity fires to different landscapes to prevent these large, intense wildfires from occurring as frequently. By using prescribed fire, fuel loads are decreased, and native plant growth is encouraged while combating invasive species.
In early September 2019, a crew of over 200 volunteer and career firefighters from Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota came together for a wildfire suppression training exercise in the Wildcat Hills, an area in western Nebraska near Scottsbluff and Gering. The training exercise was created by the Gering fire department to train firefighters in wildfire suppression tactics, while also prescribing fire to the land. Along with on-the-ground firefighters, they also use this exercise as training for aerial resources such as helicopters and planes.
This training exercise has created community, trained firefighters from Nebraska and surrounding states to gain skills to combat wildfires, and provided low intensity burns to reduce fuel loads, as well as manage the Wildcat Hills’ ecosystems.
Video Edited and Produced by Grant Reiner
Photography by Mike Forsberg Grant Reiner, and Mariah Lundgren
Written text by Mariah Lundgren