How we have mismanaged fire over the last century—and the costs we’re paying.
Around the world, writes award-winning journalist and photographer Kodas (Environmental Journalism/Univ. of Colorado; High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed, 2008, etc.), “megafires” are billowing each fire season, thanks to a perfect storm of related causes: climate change is making forests drier, beetles and other pests are making kindling of vast stretches of woodland, and “booming development…[has] filled forests with human-produced sparks and heat,” to name just a few. Those vast fires flourish because of a miscalculated fire regimen—first trying to “extinguish every wildfire in the country,” thereby allowing a vast inventory of flammable materials to build up, then introducing controlled burns that too often get out of control. In this country, the result is the projected annual burning, by midcentury, of an area the size of Maine. Trained as a forest firefighter, Kodas notes that he “didn’t anticipate that schooling would be as much in economics and politics as it was in fuels and fire weather,” since both politics and economics dominate decisions about fires and their aftermath. A case in point that he covers in depth is the Yarnell Hill Fire of 2013, in which 19 Arizona firefighters died; that story has been well-treated elsewhere, but Kodas brings new insight to the events and especially the legal wrangles that followed the blaze. More are likely to die, civilians and firefighters alike. The costs, as the author chronicles, are not just in terms of human lives, but also billions of dollars in property damage and economic loss—to say nothing of the costs states and municipalities must now shoulder as the federal government backs away from paying for firefighting. As Kodas dourly notes, Congress continues to block more funding even as the death count climbs.
Worthy of shelving alongside the best of modern firefighting books—and of the broadest audience, especially in territories where fires are likely to rage.