By just about every measure, wildfires are getting bigger, hotter, and more devastating than we’ve ever seen before. But what all that fire means -- and what to do about it -- depends on who you ask.
Our view of fire is complicated. There’s fire as catastrophe, as something to be controlled and wiped off the landscape, feared. And there’s fire as something natural and essential, beautiful.
So, how do we reconcile those two views of fire? How did we get ourselves into this mess? And what can we do about it?
Listen now on Fireline, a six part series about what wildfire means for the West, our planet and our way of life.
Fireline: a six part series about what wildfire means for the West, our planet and our way of life. Coming March 9, 2021.
Episode 1: Suppressed
When Lily Clarke arrived at the August Complex Fire, it was a fire of sensational size. The blaze eventually burned more than 1 million acres, becoming the largest recorded wildfire in California history. Across the country in 2020, flames charred an area size nearly 5 times the size of Yellowstone National Park — the largest swathe of land burned since reliable records began. Wildfires across the country are getting bigger, hotter, and more devastating. But what's all this fire really mean — for the west, for firefighters, and for everyday folks? And what's it really like to fight fire on the ground?
Lily Clarke fights wildfire for the US Forest Service and received her Master of Science in Systems Ecology from the University of Montana. John Maclean is the author of 5 books about wildfire.
Episode 2: The Big Burn
In 1910, a wildfire the size of Connecticut engulfed parts of Montana, Idaho and Washington. Ed Pulaski and his crew were among the many people trapped by the enormous blaze. The Big Burn, as it came to be known, helped propel a culture of fire suppression that persists in many forms to this day. What does that massive fire mean for the way our society deals with the wildfires of today?
Jim See is the president of the Pulaski Project in Wallace, Idaho. Steve Pyne is a fire historian, and emeritus professor at Arizona State University. Andrew Larson is a forest ecologist, professor at the University of Montana, and director of the Wilderness Institute.
Episode 3: Ring of Fire
The connection between humans and fire goes back millions of years. What started with campfires and cooking grew into a burning addiction that catalyzed the Industrial Revolution and now shapes nearly every aspect of our society. Now, our ongoing reliance on fire in its many forms is changing the climate with explosive consequences for wildfires — and much more.
Richard Wrangham is emeritus professor at Harvard University and the author of Catching Fire: How Cooking Made Us Human Jennifer Balch is a professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the director of the Earth Lab at the University. Cathy Whitlock is a regents professor at Montana State University, and the director of the MSU Paleoecology Lab.
Episode 4: The Gift of Fire
For millennia, wildfire was part of life in North America. Indigenous people used it for tradition and ceremony, to improve the health of ecosystems, and to assist with hunting and gathering. But the arrival of white settlers marked the beginning of an era in which that knowledge around fire and its role on the landscape was suppressed. Now, indigenous groups across the country are working to revive tribal relationships with fire. Today, one story of bringing fire back to the land on the Flathead Reservation in Northwest Montana.
- Andy Bidwell is a fuels specialist for the U.S. Forest Service
- Tony Incashola Jr. is the head of forestry for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
- Tony Incashola Sr. is a Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes elder and the director of the Selis-Qispe Culture Committee
- Germaine White is an educator and former cultural resource manager for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes
Episode 5: Burnout
There are more than 30,000 people who fight wildfires in the U.S, and about 400 firefighters have died on the job over the last two decades. As fire seasons get longer and longer and fires become more devastating, the physical and mental toll on firefighters themselves is also growing.
Brent Ruby is a professor at the University of Montana and the director of the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism
Dan Cottrell is the training foreman at the Missoula Smokejumper Base.
Nelda St. Claire is a former National Critical Incident Stress Program Manager for the Bureau of Land Management
This series was incredibly insightful to me—it explored the various aspects and history of of fire “management” as well as the complications involving fire today. Highly recommend.
So good! Essential listening for every citizen in the west impacted by fire (that’s all of us.)
Fireline manages to be interesting, thorough, and touching all at once. Fire is a deeply nuanced world that impacts people from all walks of life, and the creators of this podcast really sink their teeth into that complexity. Plus, as a bonus, not only is the content of the podcast fascinating, but it was really well-produced. It reminded me of NPR in a way that really worked.