Kyle digs a handline around a burning log on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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As climate change produces hotter, drier conditions and contributes to increasingly catastrophic wildfire activity every year, it’s becoming devastatingly clear that suppression is an insufficient strategy by itself. It has long been time to fight fire with fire and, more broadly, re-imagine smaller-scale fire as both a natural and necessary phenomenon.

Prescribed burning is expensive and specialized work though, and successfully reintroducing it in the western US at the scale necessary to make up for a century of suppression-oriented forest management policy presents its own challenges. Moreover, communities remain leery of it, with the destruction of recent years fresh on peoples’ minds. At the end of the day, there is no shortage of work for wildland firefighters and other resources and personnel. But many are already being pushed to the brink, both mentally and physically.

I moved to Oregon in June of 2020 and soon thereafter joined a Type 2 handcrew. Occasionally, I overhear talk of longer and longer fire seasons and poor land and fire management practices. But out on the fireline, big-picture concerns are, for the most part, drowned out by the day-to-day experiences and interpersonal aspects of firefighting. Most of us are out there precisely because we relish a mental and physical challenge—because amidst the discomfort and stress, we also find a sense of pride and thrill. Thus caught between the macroscopic and microscopic—the abstract and the concrete—it can be hard to tell what or where our limits actually are.

September 2020

Lalo. Crew Boss.

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Cody. Squad Boss/Crew Boss Trainee.

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Firefighters shelter and refurbish their line packs in a safety zone on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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Hunter bucks up a log to make way for a handline on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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Blood and Cody survey burned ridges and hillsides on the Bedrock Fire. August 2021, Lenore, ID.

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The crew waits out an afternoon thunderstorm on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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(Brandon) Blood. Squad Boss.

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Keenan. Squad Boss.

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Ethan, Landon, Dylan, Dmitri, and Jerry watch a UFC match in camp on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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Mark mopping up heats during night shift on the Mosier Creek Fire. August 2020, Mosier, OR.

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Brady and Jacob goof off after shift on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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Griffin. Firefighter Type 2.

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Ant. Firefighter Type 2.

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Angel looks out over the burn while mopping up on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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Cody and Hunter watch a helicopter approach for a bucket drop on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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David sharpens his chain after shift on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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Dan. Firefighter Type 2.

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Dane. Firefighter Type 2.

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Discovered while mopping up during night shift on the Mosier Creek Fire. August 2020, Mosier, OR.

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Nathan grids up a burned hillside on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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Cody yells for his squad to vacate an area ahead of an incoming bucket drop on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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Carter. Firefighter Type 2.

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Jackson. Firefighter Type 2.

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Two crews prepare to roll out of camp before the start of shift on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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Gabe takes a break while patrolling on the Bedrock Fire. August 2021, Lenore, ID.

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Hunter, loaded up and ready to roll. June 2021, Philomath, OR.

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Zach. Firefighter Type 2.

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Max. Firefighter Type 2.

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From a slow morning on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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The crew rests in the shade after shift on the Lava Fire. July 2021, Shasta-Trinity National Forest.

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Austin. Firefighter Type 2.

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Jon. Firefighter Type 2.

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Kinai marvels as smoke and storm clouds darken the afternoon sky on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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David, Cody, Kyle, and Hunter rest after hiking out of a drainage on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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Matt mops up a heat on the Buffalo Pasture Fire. June 2021, Crow Reservation.

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Jacob, Isaiah, Jerry, and Brandon joke around before heading out on a fire call. June 2021, Philomath, OR.

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Cody. Firefighter Type 2.

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Brock. Firefighter Type 2.

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Tanner swamping brush and ground fuel on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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Tarryn watches a game of volleyball at the crew bunkhouse. June 2021, Worley, ID.

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Maxim. Firefighter Type 2.

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Kona. Firefighter Type 2.

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Firefighters watch a video while taking their lunch break on the Bedrock Fire. August 2021, Lenore, ID.

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Ryan gives Parker a haircut in camp on the Juniper Fire. July 2021, Modoc National Forest.

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Kona mops up a heat on the Bedrock Fire. August 2021, Lenore, ID.

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Jerry waiting out a thunderstorm on the Caldwell Fire. July 2020, Modoc National Forest.

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Cedric. Firefighter Type 2.

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