An airtanker plane dropping fire retardant over the advancing Chelan Butte wildfire (part of the Chelan Complex fire) in Chelan, Washington. By Ben Brooks.

Why forest fires seem like they are getting out of control

Wildfire historian and author Stephen Pyne says we are in a new order of wildfire in North America: the megafire era. Fire is now capable of going beyond wild to what he calls “feral” or “rabid.” Yet the very conditions humans have created to host these megafires are where we can intervene to survive in this new landscape. Although drawing largely from the American experience many elements in Pyne’s synopsis apply here in British Columbia.

An airtanker plane dropping fire retardant over the advancing Chelan Butte wildfire (part of the Chelan Complex fire) in Chelan, Washington. By Ben Brooks.
An airtanker plane dropping fire retardant over the advancing Chelan Butte wildfire (part of the Chelan Complex fire) in Chelan, Washington. By Ben Brooks.

“So fire remains an index of our times: it’s like a driverless car barreling down a highway, integrating all the relevant factors around it.  Fire is a natural phenomenon, and if humanity disappeared fire would still thrive.  But most of fire’s factors remain under the influence, though not the control, of humanity.  The pathologies of our fire scene are the national pathologies pyrolyzed into flame.  Megafires are the 1% (literally, the 0.1%) of the nation’s fires that account for 80-90% of burned area and costs.”

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