NPS Prescribed Fire Program Goes Global

A wildland firefighter walks in short shrub vegetation lighting it from a drip torch. Burned vegetation is in the background and flames run behind the firefighter.
Spanish Fire Practitioner conducting ignitions on the Alcóntar Burn Unit in Andalucía Spain.

The Nature Conservancy

In November 2019, Richard Sinkovitz, Atlantic Zone Fire Management Officer based out of Cumberland Island National Seashore (CUIS), was selected to join the Andalucía Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX). Developed by The Nature Conservancy (TNC), TREX is a program to facilitate training opportunities and an exchange of ideas and best practices for prescribed burning. The Andalucía TREX was made possible through an agreement with TNC and the regional government of Andalucía in southern Spain.
Two wildland firefighters wearing all of their personal protective equipment stand in a rocky area of a field with flames from a prescribed burn in the background. Two other firefighters are in the upper left background.
Operations Chief Richard Sinkovitz and Incident Commander Rafeal Yebra observing ignitions on the Benínar Burn Unit in Andalucía Spain.

Francisco Senra Rivero

Sinkovitz served as operations section chief along with a Spanish counterpart. They were responsible for carrying out the ignitions, holding, and mop up for the prescribed burns completed during the two-week program. “Overall, the order of operations were similar to what we do in the United States. Participants attended a briefing upon arrival and settling in. One main difference was that most positions had a Spanish and American team member filling each role,” reported Sinkovitz.
Wildland firefighters from the United States and Spain stand outside by trees in a semi-circle around a white board with a map and words drawn on it.
Operational briefing prior to ignition on the Alcóntar Burn Unit.

The Nature Conservancy

During the Andalucía TREX, six burn units were successfully treated with prescribed fire at three project sites. Post-burn after action reviews were conducted daily followed by presentations by participants and invited speakers from various Spanish and European land management agencies. Sinkovitz gave presentations on the history of NPS fire management and recent prescribed fire successes at CUIS.
One objective was to implement and validate an adaptation of the U.S. position task book system. The program was a success and the Andalucía agency responsible for wildland fire management decided to adapt and implement the U.S. position task books for burn boss, firing boss, and fire effects Monitor. Representatives from several other countries present also expressed interest in using the system.
View between several ornate columns leading to a courtyard with a concrete fountain surrounded by decorative animals.
Courtyard at La Alhambra, a fortress in Andalucía Spain.

Richard Sinkovitz/NPS

Of course, there was a little time in the days off to experience the beauty and the architecture of southern Spain. Just as the NPS supports the celebration and history of our culture in the United States, participants visited protected cultural sites in Spain. La Alhambra, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was originally constructed as a small fortress in AD 889, was near enough for a visit.
View of Spanish town outside of an ornate window with decorative walls. The town has houses with orange roofs and white stucco and trees are interspersed. Mountains are present in the horizon.
View of town outside of a balcony door at La Alhambra in Spain.

Richard Sinkovitz/NPS

La Alhambra became the Royal Court for Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 where they gave their endorsement for Christopher Columbus’ expedition. Participants were awestruck by the architecture and historical context.
Wildland firefighters in Spain surround a fire engine putting away fire gear.  Fire hose is rolled up on the ground and tools are scattered around the fire engine.
Members of the Servicio Operativo de Extinción de Incendios Forestales (INFOCA) wildland firefighters in Andalucía, Spain rolling hose post burn at  Alcóntar Burn Unit.

The Nature Conservancy

The benefits of this program exceed the time spent abroad. All participating countries have an opportunity for exchange of ideas like no other. “There is a diverse set of methods to fire management across Europe,” said Sinkovitz. In Spain, fire management is handled mostly at the state level. The Andalucía area of Spain focuses heavily on aviation for initial attack of wildfires. Although roughly the size of South Carolina, Andalucía manages almost as many aircraft as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection covers with the state of California.
Several people sit around a conference table in an office setting. Flags are on post against a wall in the center.
Discussion panel about the fire program at Junta de Andalucía headquarters.

Jeremy Bailey/The Nature Conservancy

Communication was challenging, but multi-lingual participants like Sinkovitz benefitted from speaking Spanish to communicate operations and plans. There were other translators as part of the cadre, so it was not a requirement for participants to be bilingual. The program gave all members an opportunity to practice their English or Spanish speaking skills. “Working directly for the incident commander and participating in planning meetings and briefings as one of the primary translators was a unique and challenging opportunity for me,” said Sinkovitz.

This was not his first time to work with Spanish speaking fire crews. Sinkovitz managed Los Diablos Fire Crew at Big Bend National Park, which had participants who only spoke Spanish.

The NPS policy and practices were well received in Andalucía and we will likely serve as a reference to multiple organizations in attendance from Spain and other parts of Europe. Because of the success of this trip, Andalucía TREX will most likely request an NPS representative for the next program in 2021.

Cumberland Island National Seashore