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Humans are still learning to live with fire. : Michael Joiner, 360info Humans are still learning to live with fire. : Michael Joiner, 360info

Planning and mitigations in a bushfire-prone world.

By Sara Phillips, 360info

“Fire pre-dated humans and will still be here on Earth when we are all long gone,” says Royal Holloway University of London Distinguished Research Professor Andrew C. Scott, author of Fire – A very short introduction.

When humans learned to control fire, perhaps 400,000 years ago, it offered warmth, protection from predators and a way to prepare food and tools. Humans entered a period, dubbed the “the pyrocene” by Arizona State researcher Stephen J. Pyne, in which the activity of humans is etched into the geological record in charcoal deposits. Humans came together around fire, allowing language and culture to flourish. The evolution of humanity was catalysed by fire.

But as humans moved into larger towns and cities, open fires were replaced by the coal-burning electricity plants powering our heaters. Combustion was still present, but at a remove. Soon the only time that people paid attention to fire was when conflagrations threatened homes. Fire became a terrifying force to be extinguished as soon as possible.

But evidence shows that in many cases, smaller scale burning can prevent larger fires, and can be beneficial for some ecosystems. Calling upon knowledge preserved in Indigenous cultures has been a path back to a more balanced relationship with fire.

“For humans to cope with fire in the future, we need to heed lessons from more than 400 million years of fire on this planet. We may never ‘tame’ fire, but we may learn to work with and around this essential geographical process,” says Scott.

REALITY CHECK

Wildfires cost the US economy US$10.6 billion in 2021, and $17.6 billion in 2020.

Globally, smoke from wildfires is responsible for 5 to 8 percent of the 3.3 million premature deaths each year from poor air quality

The amount of land burned by wildfires each year appears to be decreasing, however the cost of fire fighting is increasing

The weather that fanned the devastating 2019/20 Australian bushfires was made 30% more likely by climate change

BIG IDEAS

Quotes attributable to Stephen Pyne, emeritus professor at Arizona State University, USA.

“Often thought of as a natural disaster, perhaps fire more emulates COVID-19 than a hurricane. If so, it responds to biological, not just physical, conditions.”

“It is as though the world of the ice ages has passed through the looking glass and ice is being replaced with fire.”

Quote attributable to Andrew C. Scott, Royal Holloway University of London Distinguished Research Professor

“Earth is the only planet known to have fire because Earth is the only planet to possess plants to fuel it. Fire is an expression of life on Earth and an index of life’s history.”

PERSPECTIVES

(Feature articles available for republishing under CC 4.0)

Indigenous lore and the fire knowledge we ignore
Christine Eriksen, ETH Zurich

As long as fire strategy prioritises suppression, the valuable knowledge of Indigenous people will continue to be sidelined.

Wildfire spreading like the plague
Stephen J. Pyne, Arizona State University

The way we think of fire informs how we manage it. For a long time we considered it physics, but perhaps fire is a biological phenomenon, like a virus.

How victims can pay polluters for a win-win result
Euston Quah, Nanyang Technical University

With smoke haze posing a significant pollution issue in Southeast Asia, a victim-pays approach could result in cleaner air for all.

Are our homes burning the forest?
Lawrence Herzog, University of California, San Diego

With urban development where wildfires have raged, conflict seems inevitable. Is there a better way?

Protecting threatened species in a new era of fire
Luke Kelly, University of Melbourne, Australia, Tim Curran, Lincoln University, New Zealand, Sophie Wilkinson, McMaster University, Canada

Some plants and animals love fire. Others do not. Innovative science will help figure out which areas to burn, which to hose and how to create resilient ecosystems.

Answers to fire management in the machine
Piyush Jain, Canadian Forest Service and University of Alberta

Big data and clever algorithms can offer new solutions for the management of wildfires.

Climate change’s dangerous new fires
Jason Sharples, University of New South Wales

Climate change is creating a new kind of dangerous wildfire. It will take all our tools to keep communities safe.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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Authors
Christine Eriksen, ETH Zurich Stephen J. Pyne, Arizona State University Euston Quah, Nanyang Technical University Lawrence Herzog, University of California, San Diego Luke Kelly, University of Melbourne, Australia, Tim Curran, Lincoln University, New Zealand, Sophie Wilkinson, McMaster University, Canada Piyush Jain, Canadian Forest Service and University of Alberta Jason Sharples, University of New South Wales
Editor
Sara Phillips, 360info
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