Born to Burn

Rachel Reklau, Natural Resources

In my 20 years with the District, some of my most cherished memories come from time spent along the prescription fire line. For me, it’s a chance to escape my fluorescent-light-drenched cubicle and do some good in the preserves with my fellow “burn crew” members. I enjoy having a small hand in helping to manage diverse and beautiful natural areas and seeing the results of our day’s work, either immediately after a burn or weeks or months later, when the first bright green shoots pop out of the bare black soil in spring.

Prescription fire is the District’s most efficient natural resource management tool. It helps control newly sprouted invasive brush and other vegetation and prevents dead grasses and leaves from piling up and suppressing native seed germination. It also turns dried plants into ash, which allows nutrients locked inside the plants to quickly reenter the soil and fertilize new growth in the spring.

Our burn crews work as teams and are largely made up of natural resources and grounds crews, ecologists and rangers who have all completed special training. Many District employees receive higher levels of training and certifications that allow them to lead burns as well. Nearly 20 of our veteran employees have logged over 100 burns — a club I’m proud to be a member of — and several have participated in over 200! 

My favorite position on the burn line is “torch operator,” which means I’m the one setting the fire under the keen eye and direction of the experienced burn crew leader. (The enthusiasm I bring has earned me the label of “pyromaniac” by co-workers, family and friends.) The position allows me to see how fire behaves firsthand and to appreciate its power. Moments like that and the knowledge of the benefits of prescription fire keep me going out year after year (well, that and my love of smelling like a campfire at the end of the day!) 

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