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.