'War on fire' has two sides, says ASU professor


Juno Schaser

In a recent opinion piece for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, titled "Our misbegotten war on fire," Stephen J. Pyne looks at humanity's long history with fire, a relationship that is both a blessing and a curse.

"The simplest way to describe fire worldwide is that there is too much of the wrong kind, too little of the right kind and too much overall," writes Pyne, a Regents' Professor in the School of Life Sciences. "The great diversity of fires points to the need for an equal diversity of means to cope with them or convert them to beneficial outcomes. 

"The wrong kinds," Pyne says, are familiar to us – such as the tragedy in Prescott that killed 19 firefighters. "The right kinds are those that perform an ecological service by burning landscapes properly – and that stay in their place." 

Characterizing the issue with fire, Pyne says, is the only way to match a problem to a solution: "A fire that burns into a community is a disaster, but if we see fire only as a disaster, then we will follow the example of many wildland fire agencies that are adopting urban, all-hazard models in place of traditional land management. This leaves them fighting the fires that break out, rather than managing the settings that sustain those fires."