Wildfire is complex and multifaceted. As with any complex issue, diverse perspectives are essential to finding workable solutions. The majority of professional fire workers today are white, male and agency based. This has created a self-perpetuating culture that struggles to address emerging challenges. Women-in-Fire Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (WTREX) support people of all genders working to strengthen and diversify this workforce.
WTREX are modeled after the Prescribed Fire Training Exchanges (TREX) that got started in Great Plains Fire Learning Network landscapes in 2008. The TREX model typically assembles diverse participants for two weeks of hands-on training, treatments, and outreach; it melds live-fire training with deeper learning on fire ecology, policy and social dynamics. WTREX reframes this model around women and underrepresented genders in fire, bringing everyone together to burn and learn in a supportive, inclusive environment.
WTREX events are unique in that they create a supportive environment and build a network of relationships that last beyond a single event. Participants learn they’re not alone in the challenges they face working in a male-dominated field, and they return home inspired and empowered.
People from numerous organizations work together to host WTREX events; depending on location, many local organizations and partners are also involved. For example, for one recent WTREX event, participating organizations included The Nature Conservancy, University of California Cooperative Extension, National Park Service, North Carolina State Extension, USDA Forest Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, California Fire Science Consortium, and Esri.
Several women at a 2015 Prescribed Fire Training Exchange (TREX) in North Carolina found themselves sharing their challenging experiences as women in fire—and decided to act. A year or so later, the first WTREX was held, in northern California in October 2016. Lenya Quinn-Davidson, lead organizer of WTREX, and others on the team were nervous about how the fire management community might perceive it and were unsure about participants’ expectations. As it turned out, the event was a resounding success. Since then, WTREX events have been held in California, Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, and international WTREX alumnae have hosted WTREX in Canada and South Africa.