June 18, 2024

ScienceWorks hosts Sparking Action! Community Wildfire Education Day

Smokey Bear was on hand for photos at Saturday’s Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative Sparking Action event at ScienceWorks. photo by Bob Palermini
May 18, 2024

Families learn about fire ecology at Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative event

By Cameron Aalto, Ashland.News

Live fire demonstrations, DIY air filter workshops, Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge basket weaving, photos with Smokey the Bear and storytelling were all part of “Sparking Action! Community Wildfire Education Day” hosted by the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (SOFRC) Saturday morning at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum.

After watching a live fire demonstration, Asher Elias, a 12-year-old student at Ashland Middle School, said, “the most interesting thing I learned is like how, if a forest is too dense, it can have really big gnarly fires.”

Ashland residents Iris Houshour and her mom, Chelsea, build a matchstick forest that will later be set afire to demonstrate fire behavior at Sparking Action — Community Wildfire Preparedness Event at ScienceWorks on Saturday. photo by Bob Palermini

Keeping the forest from becoming too dense is something the Ashland Forest Resiliency (AFR) project is working toward.

“We’re working to reduce fuels and one of the most important tools for that is using prescribed fires,” said Sara Jones, AFR’s community engagement coordinator. “It reduces that fire risk by burning up the ground fuels and it’s a way of introducing a natural process that we have been suppressing for 150 years, and so it’s a way for us to use a mild fire … process before we have the summer temperatures higher.”

Sofia Maciel lights one of the matchstick forests to demonstrate fire behavior on a slope. photo by Bob Palermini

One of the teachings at the event was about the wildland fire behavior triangle, which consists of three elements that influence fires: fuel, weather and topography.

“The fuel is the only part of the wildland fire triangle that we can make a difference in before the summer wildfire season comes in,” Jones said. “So, we can’t change the topography, we can’t change the weather, so really it is that make-up of fuels (we can make a difference in).”

Ashland Fire & Rescue brought a fire engine to ScienceWorks Saturday and showed off the equipment. photo by Bob Palermini

She says that it was important for youth to be centered at Saturday’s event because they “are the future of the Rogue Valley, and we really want the youth to understand how our forests are fire adapted, so they can make that connection to their community and how their community can be more fire adapted. And we just don’t have the capacity to do all of the work really, the youth are the ones really who can help lead our fire-adapted community and our future for this.”

SOFRC Education Program Director Jennifer Payne says that the event was “student-focused” and based on fire ecology curricula students in Southern Oregon have been learning. “The philosophy is that we empower people while supporting them, the youth and their families,” she said, “with knowledge, but also with leadership skills.”

Jennifer Payne, Education Program Director of the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative, points to one of the projects done by high school students to learn the effects of wildfire on the landscape. photo by Bob Palermini

This curriculum has been used at many schools in Jackson and Josephine counties, including Armadillo Community Charter School in Phoenix. Three students from the charter school — Jonah Miller, Beverly Shields, and Liv Clark — came to present their work Saturday.

From left, Jonah Miller, Beverly Shields, and Liv Clark staffed an information table Saturday. photo by Cameron Aalto

Jonah said the students took a class in which they were asked to provide an issue they saw locally relating to potential fire emergencies and come up with potential solutions.

Beverly said that the curriculum taught her “how plants revolve around fire and that kind of stuff, and how some plants need fire to survive … and, like, if this one tree needs fire to make its seeds grow, and everything.”

Sara Jones (right) from Ashland Forest Resiliency teaches how to build a low-cost air filter using a box fan and Merv 13 air filter. photo by Bob Palermini

One of the issues students saw in their community was an excess of blackberry bushes, noting that, if left to grow, the bushes could become fuel for a future fire. “We got these hand tools,” Beverly said, “and we just basically went out and cut down blackberries and thin them out and put them on this tarp and just took it out and like made sure that … the blackberries wouldn’t be any fuel for the fire.”

Beverly adds that the information shared at the event was important for children “just to help show them and understand fire and how it’s good for the environment and how it’s needed in life and how it’s gonna continue to be here, it’s not gonna go away; basically, just how to live around it and how to get used to it.”

Asher Elias, a 12-year-old Ashland Middle School student was there for educational activities focused on wildfire preparedness at a Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative program at ScienceWorks Saturday. photo by Bob Palermini

The event was an opportunity for families to not only learn about wildfire safety, but also about the traditional needs and teachings regarding the land. Sequoia Ahimsa, Education and Training Program Manager for the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, says the event was important because “we want to raise awareness, especially in regard to Indigenous traditional ecological knowledge and how tribal people have been practicing the use of good fire for time immemorial, and now I feel like the agencies are catching up and including tribal people in the decision making and making sure that (young Indigenous) folks have a seat at the table in regards to what restoration treatments look like and using those historical reference points that have been passed down from generation to generation.”

Sofia Maciel from Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative (left) and Kaiya Spain from Lomakatsi Restoration Project show off protective equipment before they do the live fire demo in the dome at ScienceWorks Saturday. photo by Bob Palermini

Event partners included organizations such as Ashland Fire & Rescue, the Lomakatsi Restoration Project, Rogue Valley Fire Prevention Cooperative, BLM Medford, Jackson County Emergency Management, the Nature Conservancy, USFS, US Fish and Wildlife, and the Oregon State Fire Marshal intern Cameron Aalto is a senior at Southern Oregon University. Email him at

Sofia Maciel talks with the Wayne family from San Diego who built a matchstick forest for the live fire demonstration at the Southern Oregon Forest Restoration Collaborative Sparking Action event at ScienceWorks Saturday. photo by Bob Palermini
AFR Fire Adapted Communities officer Brian Hendrix demonstrated taping a Merv13 air filter to a box fan at Saturday’s Sparking Action – Community Wildfire Preparedness Event at ScienceWorks. photo by Bob Palermini
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Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Email him at

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