Unlikely career path | US Forest Service
Lex Scanlan chauffeurs Smokey Bear at the Toledo Summertime Festival and Logging Display around the Oregon Coast on July 15, 2023. (Picture courtesy of Lex Scanlan)

Rising up in Chicago, a career as a wildland firefighter felt as distant to Lex Scanlan as the huge mountains and giant conifers far to the West.  

“Most of my family and friends are from the Midwest exactly where wildfire was a pretty abstract concept,” Scanlan states, chuckling. “I have generally been unbiased, so picking a occupation route international to most of my loved ones and good friends was not as well shocking.”

Her stepdad to begin with impressed Scanlan to pursue structural firefighting with lessons at a local community faculty in Arizona. Above a spring split, Scanlan enrolled in basic wildland firefighter courses to earn her Pink Card, the certification to work on wildland fires. Ahead of she realized it, she was hooked!

From the Midwest to the West Coast

Soon after acquiring her bachelor’s degree, Scanlan gained a masters in all-natural methods from the College of Idaho with a focus on fireplace management and ecology. She invested several yrs functioning on fireplace engine crews in the West, but these days she finds herself in a location not acknowledged for significant megafires – the rainy, moss-laden Oregon Coastline.

As the initially, complete-time fire prevention technician on the Central Coastline Ranger District of the Siuslaw Countrywide Forest, Scanlan is tasked with a exceptional set of difficulties.

Commonly, the Siuslaw faces extra floods than wildfires. But recently the area has knowledgeable a rise in human-triggered fires, mostly thanks to a big number of outdoor recreators who request refuge on the neat Oregon Coastline through the sizzling summer months. Tourism in basic has skyrocketed considering that the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s terrific so a lot of individuals recreate right here, but it is led to an uptick in fire begins,” she suggests.

Lex Scanlan stands with Smokey Bear and Dan Eddy from Northwest Oregon Bureau of Land Administration at the Oregon Ag Fest in Salem, Oregon in April, 2023. (Image courtesy of Lex Scanlan)

Which is in which Scanlan arrives in, top hearth avoidance and schooling outreach initiatives. Every single calendar year, she attends neighborhood situations and visits nearby colleges to articulate the potential risks of human-induced fires. To Scanlan, the work is a lot more than just speaking about hearth avoidance.

“I most take pleasure in connecting with my community and constructing rely on,” she says. “I often converse to people completely unfamiliar with hearth. My Midwest upbringing reminds me to clarify wildland hearth concepts without having the use of difficult fire jargon.”

A Holistic and Proactive Strategy

At the Central Coast Ranger Station in Waldport, Oregon, Scanlan performs for Zone Fireplace Administration Officer Nathan Shinkle. He experienced very long advocated for a complete-time avoidance posture and recognizes how necessary Scanlan is.

Lex Scanlan and her “fancy” digital camera capture photos at a prescribed burn up at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the Oregon Coastline Variety on September 25, 2023. (Photograph courtesy of Lex Scanlan)

“One of the 1st factors I did was obtain Lex a extravagant digital camera,” he claims. “If she’s likely to realize success in prevention, she demands to converse properly and be innovative.”

Shinkle himself isn’t a typical hearth administration officer. He directs his firefighters to find out much more than just suppression approaches. They also have to have to study how fire is a element of the complete ecosystem.

He’s given each of his employees the ebook “Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The creator explores how indigenous know-how and ecology intertwine. The guide even incorporates a chapter about prescribed fire on the Oregon Coastline, a little something Shinkle hopes to see far more of in the future.

Above the very last few several years, western Oregon has skilled consecutive historic fireplace seasons that burned tens of millions of acres and impacted total towns. Fires in 2020 proved in particular destructive. Whilst considerably lesser in acreage than the bigger fires of the Oregon Cascade Mountains, the 2,500-acre Echo Mountain Hearth, burning largely on personal land, ruined additional than 100 properties around the coastal town of Lincoln Metropolis through a exceptional, late-summertime wind occasion.

Lex and Madeline Scheintaub, a hearth planner from the Bureau of Land Management, having pre-burn up measurements at Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge in preparing for a recommended burn off on September 21, 2022. (Photograph courtesy of Lex Scanlan)

With the 2020 hearth period and subsequent impacts as a cautionary tale, the Siuslaw Nationwide Forest aims to boost fuels reduction assignments and approved burning.

“The very last couple decades provide as a wake-up get in touch with,” claimed Shinkle. “Climate alter adds an excess layer of uncertainty, bringing for a longer time and hotter summers. We’re certain to see increased hearth hazard on the Coastline and a resilient landscape is important.”

“This is why Lex is so essential to our program,” he explained. “She is familiar with how to speak to folks and understands the ecology guiding fireplace.”

Fireplace Prevention for the Foreseeable future

Unlike quite a few places in the West, campfire bans are not a common yearly event on the Siuslaw National Forest. Nonetheless the summertime of 2023 introduced the driest problems in current memory.

To streamline the selection to enact community use limitations for fires, Scanlan collaborated with a fire planner from the Utah Bureau of Land Administration to produce a new hearth restriction matrix certain to the central Oregon Coastline. By mid-July the Siuslaw had put it into practice, implementing a temporary campfire ban, decreasing the chance of wildfires.

“I’m happy of combining my information of fuels, ecology and prevention to generate this important software,” Scanlan suggests. “Our leadership can rely on it as the summertime months turn out to be hotter and drier.”

An emergency communicator stands next to a board of maps and information with a sign that says "Fire Information"

Scanlan stands up coming to a indicator board whilst operating as a Community Info Officer trainee for the duration of the 2021 Antelope Fire in California. (Picture courtesy of Lex Scanlan)

Scanlan also hones her talents as a general public facts officer. Previous summer months she supported a community incident administration crew on the 3 Buttes Hearth.

“The uncommon hearth activity designed a ton of stress and angst in the local community. It was the very first time in 20 several years the Siuslaw hosted an incident administration workforce on the Central Coast Ranger District which led to elevated curiosity from the community and community media,” mentioned Scanlan. “Telling the story of fireplace burning on the coastal landscape proved advanced.”

Luckily the A few Buttes Hearth did not breach containment lines, but the dense coastal vegetation and steep terrain kept the fire energetic until eventually drop rains arrived. Scanlan knows it will not be the very last time a massive wildfire hits the Siuslaw.

Scanlan finds achievement bringing consciousness of avoidance and fuels management to an spot exactly where chances to check out these principles abound. The forest is incorporating a fire ecologist situation on the Central Coastline Ranger District and Scanlan hopes to contend for the career shortly.

“I appreciate that my work is so significantly much more than safeguarding the land from unwanted fireplace,” said Scanlan. “As the local climate shifts and we see additional hearth on the landscape, telling the tale about superior (planned) versus poor (human-prompted) fire will only grow to be additional vital. An informed general public that understands how fireplace ecology interlinks with forest management is important for results.”