“Big fires demand a big response”

An essay from The Conversation, “Big fires demand a big response: How 1910’s Big Burn can help us think smarter about fighting wildfires and living with fire.”


A new fire paradigm

The response to the Big Burn was not only wrongheaded, in our view, but also crude in its single-mindedness. “Put all forest fires out” had a clarity to it, but a 21st-century fire paradigm shift will have to be connected to broader conversations about environmental knowledge and how it can best be shared.

The U.S. has learned that it cannot suppress its way to a healthy relationship with fire in the West. That strategy failed even before climate change proved it to be no strategy at all.

Building a more successful coexistance with fire includes figuring out how to work cooperatively. This includes broader conversations about environmental knowledge, what constitutes it and how best it can be shared. Indigenous communities have long lived with fire and used it to cultivate healthy ecosystems. Prescribed and cultural burning are important tools in mitigating catastrophic fire and simultaneously aiding forest health.

Living with fire also requires teaching everyone about fire. Schools at all levels and grades can teach fire knowledge, including the science of fire and its consequences for communities, economies and lives; the history and cultural practices of fire; and the plants, landscapes and materials that can help prevent fires.

12 thoughts on ““Big fires demand a big response””

  1. As a former Type 1 Firefighter I should say yes. But you might teach a future arsonist or some one who becomes entranced with fire or open flames. And most of the knowledge is only important to firefighters and those that create policies or laws which have an effect on forest overgrowth. Start logging again. This will gut the cost of lumber and address the issue of homelessness. The homeless do ignite some of those fires. And even the bunny huggers live in houses made with lumber products. Just they don’t want you too have a home.

  2. Self-reliance or moral hazard? Utilities are not your friends. Rooftop solar is the future while burying vulnerable power lines is so last century. Homeowners should sue whichever utilities started these latest fires into the dustbin of history.

    • Sooooo, you’re saying that those Colorado residents who lost their homes are stupid? Or, you are saying that their elected leaders are stupid?

      How do YOU get YOUR electricity? From above-ground wires?

      (Everyone’s power comes via powerlines, at some point)

  3. I think the point of your last two posts is that we need to learn to burn. There’s nothing here that says mechanical thinning contributes anything on its own, so the main question for that seems to be the circumstances under which mechanical thinning is a cost-effective component of a burning strategy (where “cost-effective” factors in the environmental costs/benefits as well). Where should this question be answered and how? (As a planner, I think in terms of scientific criteria to apply in an area-specific planning process.) Do we have any answers?

  4. Utilities, county commissions, lenders, and developers need to be held accountable for building tinder boxes but until that happens expect another 400,000 acres of Kansas and a thousand homes will go up in flames.

    • Wildfires can burn homes in towns as easily as those in your hated WUI. I hope it won’t take the loss of your home or someone you care about to teach you some compassion and humility on this issue.

  5. Colorado remains the only state without a state fire marshal so the causes of some of the state’s largest wildfires remain unknown. The 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire was the state’s costliest at nearly half a billion dollars until the Black Forest Fire the next year surpassed that. In October, 2020 the East Troublesome Fire incinerated nearly 200,000 acres of mixed timber and grass becoming the second largest wildfire ever recorded in Colorado. It was believed downed power lines caused the Marshall Fire, now the state’s most destructive, that forced the evacuation of thousands and evaporated probably a thousand homes but Xcel Energy insists that isn’t the case.

    Utilities, county commissions, lenders and developers need to be held accountable for building tinder boxes packed so closely together that homeowners can see into each others bathrooms.

    • Spreading houses out will mean more loss of wildlife habitat, as well as more miles driven and transportation energy consumption, and not to mention higher housing costs. I think it would be more important to require steps to stop wildfires from getting into subdivisions to begin with – communal defensible space (as well as managing things that might start and spread fires within subdivisions).


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