A Brief History
Publication Year: 2001
Published by: University of Washington Press
Title Page, Copyright
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The grand cycle of fire on Earth: that is the big subject of this small book. It is also, in lesser form, its context, for it is my hope that Fire: A Brief History will bring, if not final closure, at least a degree of condensation to the Cycle of Fire suite. ...
Foreword: Small Book, Big Story
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For me, one of the chief pleasures and privileges of serving as general editor of Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books has been the opportunity to introduce each volume in the series with a brief essay that shares with readers my own enthusiasm for the work of its author. ...
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There was a time when the Earth did not burn; when oxygen did not soak its atmosphere, when plants did not encrust its lands. But for more than 400 million years the planet has burned. In some places and times, fire has trimmed and pruned flora; in others, it has hewn whole biotas; ...
1. Fire and Earth: Creating Combustion
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According to many myths, we became truly human only when we acquired fire. So it is natural to assume a parallel awakening for the place we live. Rather, the Earth likely simmered through more than four billion years before its biotic broth boiled over. Some of fire’s components the ancient Earth acquired only after long eons. ...
2. Frontiers of Fire (Part 1): Fire Colonizing by Hominids
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Humans brought to the Earth what the First Fire landscapes of the Devonian and fuel-surplused landscapes of the Paleozoic and Mesozoic had lacked: a creature who could carry fire around its surface, who could match fuel with flame. What began as a chemical event evolved, in humanity’s restless hands, into a device for remaking whole landscapes. ...
3. Aboriginal Fire: Controlling the Spark
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Whether they nudged or hammered, subtly shifted a landscape or shattered one, first-contact fires had this much in common: they could not repeat themselves endlessly. Like all pioneers, they destroyed the conditions on which they depended. ...
4. Agricultural Fire: Cultivating Fuel
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Aboriginal fire struck the Earth like a Promethean spark. But that spark was, in the end, only as good as its combustible surroundings. The firestick was more limited by its length than by the brilliance of its flame. A goodly hunk of the Earth remained untouched by flame, or visited only on a cycle of centuries. ...
5. Frontiers of Fire (Part 2): Fire Colonizing by Agriculture
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By its very nature, cultivating is a kind of colonizing. Agriculture converts a biota into a form it would not naturally take and cannot, without constant meddling, hold. But some conversions have gone on for so long and across such vast areas that they have blossomed into full-blown colonizations. ...
6. Urban Fire: Building Habits for Fire
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The built landscape is as much a fire environment as forests and fields. It can hardly be otherwise: the hearth, the house, the town—all are designed with fire in mind. Most seek to promote contained fire but, if anything, are more fire-prone than the countryside around them. ...
7. Pyrotechnics: Fire and Technology
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In nearly all myths, when people get fire, they move beyond the rest of creation; they become distinctively human. Aeschylus had Prometheus proclaim that by bestowing fire on humanity he had invented “all the arts of man.” That’s a claim as reckless as it is bold. ...
8. Frontiers of Fire(Part 3): Fire Colonizing by Europe
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It helps to remember that the geographic expansion of Europe resembled that of other peoples. The slow saturation of continental Europe by sedentary farmers matches the southward migration of the Han Chinese, both of them crowding swiddeners and herders to the margins. ...
9. Industrial Fire: Stoking the Big Burn
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Getting spark and tinder together at the right moment was, for nature, always chancy. Humans improved those odds by making ignition more or less constant and by chipping or coaxing biomass into ready fuel. This did not ensure, however, that lands burned at will. ...
10. The Future of Fire: Burning Beyond the Millennium
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To casual observers, 1997–98 was, as the World Wildlife Fund declared, “The Year the World Caught Fire.” Flames seemed to erupt everywhere, and what didn’t burn outright appeared to vanish in a planetary pall of smoke. A climatic shift almost tectonic in power, the most extreme weather in a century of records, ...
Selected Sources and Further Reading
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Publication Year: 2001