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In Fire's Way

A Practical Guide to Life in the Wildfire Danger Zone

Thomas J. Wolf

Publication Year: 2003

A fire fighting tool for homeowners and firefighters alike, this guide discusses both the properties of wildfires and ways to minimize damage. Authored by an environmental journalist with advanced degrees in forestry, it is a must-have book designed to help westerners understand the Wildfire Danger Zone.

Published by: University of New Mexico Press

Front Cover

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Title Page

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pp. viii-ix

I thank Gary and Joanne Boyce. Their generous grant from the Nicholas and Pansy Schenck Foundation got this book started. I could not have finished the book without last-minute financial help from John Baden of Gallatin Writers, who has given a voice to so many of us. As always, my most heart-felt thanks go to my mentor in all forestry matters, Denny Lynch...

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Introduction: Victims or Partners?

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pp. 1-22

Can we learn to live with fire?1 The purpose of this book is to help ordinary citizens educate themselves about fire issues in the Wildfire Danger Zone (also known as the Wildland-Urban Interface). Though the book pertains to the entire Rocky Mountain West, it provides a close look at fire-related issues in two representative states: Colorado and New Mexico...

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1: Born to Burn?

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pp. 14-25

What firefighter could resist this magnificent machine (figs. 1a–b)? This 88-foot long helicopter is 25 feet tall with 72-foot rotor blades. It is especially effective in areas with steep ridges and narrow canyons. A front-mounted, 300-gallon-per minute foam cannon launches water or foam 160 feet through the air. The Air- Crane’s fast-fill snorkel (40 feet long and 14 inches in diameter) sucks 2,000 gallons in forty seconds into a high-capacity tank, which attaches to the belly of the craft. A metered flow system allows multiple drops: 25 percent, 50 percent, 75 percent; or all 2,000 gallons in less than two seconds...

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2: What Do We Know about Wildfire?

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pp. 26-34

After a century of fire suppression, we have forgotten much common sense about wildfire.We have also learned much scientific sense.We still know less than we should about wildfire. This chapter serves as a reminder of some of the basics, especially for those of us who grew up listening to Smokey the Bear. It seems that the less familiar children are with real forests, the more likely they are as adults to want the government to suppress all fires. Causes What are the causes of wildfires? Do people today set them intentionally? According to the U.S. Forest Service, the causes vary widely by region...

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3: A Practical Approach

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pp. 35-60

We Americans think of ourselves as a “can do” people.1 The lessons of the Cerro Grande Fire may not diminish this self-image, but they raise the question of whether we as individual homeowners will in fact do what we should do in time to reduce wildfire hazards. Judging from most of the literature on fire hazard reduction in the Wildfire Danger Zone, property owners can radically reduce the threat to their homes by creating what is called a “defensible space” around the home...

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4: What the Professional Firefighter Knows

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pp. 61-70

Do not just throw money at a fire, for money is also flammable, and the hotter flames will simply demand more and more money. The key is accountability. The history of the various Cerro Grande Fire reports (see next chapter) demonstrates how important it is for citizens to do their part but also for fire managers to follow proper, established procedures, especially about changing jurisdictions as fire moves across property boundaries...

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5: Cerro Grande: The Millennium Los Alamos Fires

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pp. 71-84

According to fire scientist Jack Cohen, the part of the Cerro Grande Fire that devastated Los Alamos was not a swift firestorm, or even, for the most part, a crown fire. What torched the homes was a slow-moving, lethargic fire that simply overwhelmed available resources, even though heavy equipment of all kinds was already staged in the area. The real source of the fire’s inexorable spread was citizen neglect: pine needles, woodpiles, wood fences, and flammable shrubbery close to houses (figs. 11 through 16)...

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6: Encouraging News from the Wildfire Danger Zone

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pp. 85-98

El Paso and Douglas Counties form part of the urban corridor that stretches between Denver and Colorado Springs along Interstate 25. My family homesteaded around Parker in the 1880s. Life was better out on the plains southeast of Denver than it had been in Austria and Germany, but death still came quickly and in many strange, new forms. My paternal grandmother, born in 1888, could remember how people would burn wheat stubble and ditches for weed control, hoping to beat the much larger prairie wildfires to the punch. Her vivid stories about prairie fires illuminated...

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7: Return to Our Roots

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pp. 99-109

In the wake of the Millennium Fire Season, the Clinton administration proposed massive federal expenditures to deal with the role of wildfire in forest health on public lands.1 It also submitted major programs to deal with fire hazard reduction on the forty million acres related to or in the Wildfire Danger Zone...

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8: What to Do

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pp. 110-123

Very few professional foresters would accept this dubious distinction between “logging” and “thinning.”1 The problem is that former Secretary Babbitt stereotypes loggers as abusers of the forest, rather than giving them the chance to become the highly skilled and highly professional forest stewards they can and should be...

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9: Can We and Should We Trust Foresters?

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pp. 124-131

A handful of Los Alamosans—for safety or aesthetics—spared their houses from fire merely by tending to their yards. Witness the example of Howard Cady, whose zeal in cutting down nearby trees so inflamed his neighbors that they reported him to federal foresters—yet he preserved not only his house but their homes also. “This man got chewed...

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10: Sustainable Forest Stewardship

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pp. 132-138

If we wish to have a sustainable regional economy that lives and even thrives with fire,we will have to learn how to welcome good wood back into our lives, whether as consumers and/or as dwellers in the Wildfire Danger Zone.1...


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pp. 139-143

Glossary and Acronyms

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pp. 144-155


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pp. 156-162


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pp. 163-168

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780826320889
E-ISBN-10: 0826320880
Print-ISBN-13: 9780826320964
Print-ISBN-10: 0826320961

Page Count: 176
Illustrations: 23 halftones
Publication Year: 2003

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Wildfires -- Prevention and control -- West (U.S.).
  • Firescaping -- West (U.S.).
  • Wildfires -- West (U.S.).
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