April 24-28 was the 8th annual Loess Hills Cooperative Burn Week, hosted by Loess Hills Fire Partners. This event is "an opportunity to join with partners to achieve fire management in an area where additional skills and resources were needed to accomplish the work at a landscape scale. It was also an opportunity to build relationships with partners, share knowledge and skills, and work within a more complex organizational structure utilizing an expanded Incident Command System." More than 100 people from dozens of organizations, numerous states, and even Canada, joined this year's event. The group was based out of Loess Hills State Forest headquarters in Pisgah, and burned primarily in Harrison, Monona, and southern Woodbury counties. Fire is an important part of stewardship for western Iowa's land. Historically, fires were set by indigenous peoples and occasional lightning strikes on an interval of every few years. Without these regular fires, fuels build up that pose a serious threat for more dangerous wildfires.
Just two weeks before Co-op Burn Week, more than 3,700 acres were burned in the Preparation Canyon Unit of Loess Hills State Forest and adjacent private lands. Other large wildfires have burned several thousand acres in western Iowa in the past year. While Co-Op Burn Week typically involves burning large areas to meet ecological objectives, being able to put out a fire is even more important. Monday's activities focused on fire suppression. Trainers started a small fire and participants had to work together to mobilize resources to extinguish the fire. Drought conditions have made grass and woodland fires more frequent, and high winds can spread them incredibly quickly. The fire suppression activities highlighted the need for excellent communication in a high-stress, time-limited situation with people who have never worked together.
Monday evening was a special event in Woodbine, featuring Brad Elder from Nebraska. Brad was badly injured in a burnover while fighting a wildfire in eastern Nebraska in October 2023. He told his story and talked about his recovery, and advised firefighters on how best to avoid a situation like the one he experienced.
Also at the Monday evening program, a video about Loess Hills Cooperative Burn Week premiered. The video was created by Amanda Trudell and Shelly Eisenhauer at the 2022 Burn Week.
Most of the rest of the week included boots-on-the-ground, live action training with prescribed fire. Participants were divided into several units to conduct multiple burns at the same time. State and county private lands and some private lands were included, both in the Loess Hills landform and on the Missouri River floodplain.
More information, including reports on previous Loess Hills Cooperative Burn Weeks, is available at http://www.loesshillsalliance.com/fire.html
Next year's Burn Week will be held in the northern Loess Hills.