Burning Questions: America's Fight with Nature's Fire

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A burning mix of diesel fuel and gasoline drips from handheld canisters onto the ground. Slowly a line of fire begins to creep downhill. The flames are well behaved, almost hesitant. This is a backing fire, unlikely to attract media attention unless it escapes, like the disastrous Los Alamos Cerro Grande fire did in 2000. This book explores a century of controversy over prescribed burning—using fire as a tool—and fire suppression. For more than 100 years, America waged an all-out war against wildland fire. Decades of fire suppression caused fuels to build up at alarming levels in our forests, culminating in the increasingly severe, uncontrollable fires of the late 20th century—the fires in Yellowstone, the Oakland Hills, and Los Alamos and the fires in summers of 2000 (the second worst fire season in the nation's history) and 2001.

Looking at these and earlier fires, Carle uses the voices of those who were involved, of those who were early advocates, and of today's proponents to examine the role of controlled burning. Early in the century, Harold Biswell, a pioneer in prescribed burning, dared to commit the heresy of questioning the dogma of fire suppression, despite professional controversy and opprobrium, he and a few other pioneers led the way. Their roles play an integral part in the story told here. In Biswell's words, fire is a natural part of the environment, about as important as rain and sunshine… . We must work more in harmony with nature, not so much against it. Can humanity, this book asks, learn to become a fire-adapted species?

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Editorial Reviews

From The Critics
Drawing into question the standard practices of fire suppression and revising the possibility of prescribed burning, this book recounts 100 years of fire-fighting controversy. It traces the debate from its late nineteenth century origins to the disasters of 2000 and 2001. Black and white photographs and cartoons illustrate the controversy. Carle has worked as a state park ranger and has taught biology at Cero Coso Community College. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275973711
  • Publisher: ABC-CLIO, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/28/2002
  • Pages: 310
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

DAVID CARLE was a state park ranger in California for 27 years. Before retiring in 2000, he was at the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, where he participated in the prescribed burn program at Mono Lake. He also taught biology at Cerro Coso Community College. Now a freelance writer, he is the author of Drowning the Dream: California's Water Choices at the Millennium (Praeger, 2000) and Mono Lake Viewpoint (1992).

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Table of Contents

Preface: America's Hundred Year's War on Wildfire

Questioning the Dogma of War

"Professional" versus "Indian" Forestry

Burning the Southern Woods

Harolds of Change

Only You

Harry the Torch

Who Were Anti-War Activists of the 1960s and 1970s?

Tall Timbers

Dog-hair Thickets in the National Parks

Burning California State Parks

National Fire Management

To Burn or Not to Burn Is NOT the Question

Yellowstone, 1988

On the Edge


Peaceful Coexistence



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