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.