Pacific West Region
Fire managers focus on protecting life and property as well as maintaining fire as part of fire adapted ecosystems for forest health and ecosystem resiliency. The range of response is as varied as the landscapes of the western United States.
The Pacific West Region includes parks in Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, Nevada, Idaho, American Samoa, and Guam (We would love to see an interactive map here where visitors could link to specific parks or regions.) In some areas, such as Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks in California, fire has always been a frequent visitor. Firefighters at Sequoia and Kings Canyon use fire to encourage the growth of new giant sequoias.
In parks like North Cascades and Olympic, smoke from lightning fires may be part of the late summer and fall landscape. These fires increase the biodiversity of both plant and animal habitats.
Conversely, the chaparral of Southern California and the fuel types of the Pacific Islands are adapted to fire but can be negatively affected if the fire intervals are too frequent. For Santa Monica Mountains, in urban Southern California, quick response is necessary to protect life and property.
In parks like Joshua Tree and Hawaii Volcanoes, invasive species are changing the frequency and intensities of fires and this may threaten native plants and animals.
Living Wisely with Fire
Prevention and Education
Wildland Fire is a reality throughout the West. The National Park Service partners with nearby communities and with neighboring federal, state, and local fire departments to reduce the risk of unwanted fire in developed areas. Defensible space programs, Firewise Communities, and prevention programs aimed at stopping accidental ignitions, help protect residents and visitors.
Parks also use mechanical thinning as a means to reduce fuels near developed areas. Sometimes, an area may need mechanical thinning before prescribed fire can be used as a tool.
When to use Fire as a Tool
Fire, a vital process throughout the region, has long been excluded by fire suppression. This has resulted in abnormally high levels of forest fuels. Prescribed fires reduce these fuels, which in turn reduces the risk of an unwanted fire during hotter, drier conditions. Most parks focus on wildland urban interface (nearby communities) to help protect them from fire.
Parks also use prescribed fire to re-establish fire as a natural process and achieve desired ecological goals. Yosemite and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks complete prescribed fires in sequoia groves. Giant sequoias are fire adapted and thrive in naturally cycling fire. Fire opens the cones, and releases the tiny seeds to the nutrient rich ash and mineral soil below—ideal conditions for this tree’s germination.
Lightning fires are common in the mountains of the western United States. Wilderness parks like North Cascades, Lassen Volcanic, Yosemite, and Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks may respond to these fires with a full range of options from full suppression to monitoring. Parts of the fire may be contained to protect developed areas, while other parts of the fire may be monitored to restore the fire cycle on these landscapes.
Training, Experience, and Science
The success of fire management in the region is based upon multiple factors. Fire crews are trained and drill for wildland fire response based upon interagency standards. This means they can respond to fires in the parks, within their communities, and throughout the nation. This depth of experience provides them range of options (from suppression to prescribed fire) to make the best decisions for the safety of park visitors, the protection of park developments, and the health of the forests. Fire ecology science informs and verifies fire management decisions.