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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Indigenous communities believe controlled burns could help California with future fire prevention

Dr. Rodriguez describes the ancient practice of using controlled, low-level burns to clear away brush and preserve the land as an organic science.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, California — Using fire to prevent a fire. 

It may seem like a strange tactic but it's something Native American tribes used to do every year to clear away brush. Now they are calling on fire agencies to learn from that tradition.

In the midst of one of the worst wildfire seasons in California's history, indigenous communities say the answers to keep this from happening again could lie in the past.

"If they were open to it, they could learn a lot from us," says Dr. Stan Rodriguez, director of Kumeyaay Community College.

He describes the ancient practice of using controlled, low-level burns to clear away brush and preserve the land as something he calls an organic science.

But Rodriguez says that practice ended when Western settlers forced tribes from their land and banned such activity.

"It improved the environment and placed nutrients back into the soil," Rodriguez said of the benefits of controlled burns.

Without regular burns, the vegetation has grown thick and dries out every summer, only increasing the risk of controlled burns getting out of hand.

According to CalFire, during fire season, state and federal authorities are forced to focus on extinguishing wildfires. But when the conditions allow, they've seen the benefits of controlled burns.

In Northern California, certain tribes have now partnered with the US Forest Service to manage land. California has now partnered with the same agency to treat one million acres of forest and wildland annually to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire.

Watch video: California fires could get even worse: