Our Complicated Relationship with Fire


Every summer we hear about wildfires burning throughout California and the arid West. This summer has been no exception. In fact, the number and extent of this summer’s wildfires are greater than in recent years, despite the heavy rains and snowfall we enjoyed this winter. Though it seems counterintuitive, the precipitation helped fuel these fires by creating substantial new growth, and when the grasses and other new plants dry out during the high summer temperatures they create ideal conditions for fire. Moreover, bark beetles, which thrived during California’s many-year drought, caused the death of millions of trees in the state’s forests that are also now ripe for burning. Though the danger posed by fire can suggest that it is something to battle against, fire is also a tool that provides light, heat and energy for humans. Moreover, fire is one of Earth’s natural processes, and it plays an important role in many ecosystems that humans rely upon. In short, fire brings both benefits and danger to humans, and, not surprisingly, we have a long and complex relationship to this elemental force.

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