The Perfect Firestorm
Ultimately, though, fire will do what it does, and humans will argue about how to respond. Cohen understands that when it comes to fire policy, philosophy plays as big a role as thermodynamics. His experiments illuminate physical properties of fire in a biological system, but it is in the realm of culture that the debate must play out. “The societal response to fire is about perceptions of personal and property protection,” he says. “The scientific findings are about abstract ecological function and fire physics.”
There’s nothing abstract about a fire burning for weeks or months, choking the sky with smoke and subjecting wildlife, plants, and people to one of nature’s most awesome forces. In the end, “the phenomenon of megafires can be attributed to one common cause—us,” says Pyne. “Even global warming is apparently an outcome of our combustion habits.” Fires, and big ones, are thus part of our flammable planet’s very nature.