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“Flames torched the hillside, igniting the dry chaparral at Sedgwick Reserve in California’s Santa Ynez Valley. Sagebrush and yucca caught fire like tinder as the flame front advanced, leaving charred snags and smoldering yucca stumps in its wake.

Dozens of professionals hurried about, clad in Nomex gear with hoses and water trucks at the ready. However, instead of nozzles, their gloves gripped drip torches with flames flickering at the ends of the spouts. They had lit the fire that now consumed the hillside, and they labored to ensure it would spread.

Resource managers are increasingly turning toward prescribed burns as a tool to maintain and restore landscapes and reduce the risk of wildfires. The technique stretches back thousands of years to the native peoples of North America. European Americans began to suppress the practice and, for more than a century, every spark and ember was aggressively extinguished. But now scientists and land stewards are beginning to understand the nuances of fire in the American West, and how we can put it to good use.”