The United States does not have a fire problem. It has many fire problems. The policy of fire exclusion through most of the 20th century seemed successful at first but eventually lead to larger, more intense, and damaging fires. By the mid-1970s federal agencies pulled back from the fire suppression model and embraced a mix of fire practices, including forms of prescribed burning and let-burn policies.
The 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park carried fire issues to the public, advertising the ecological significance of free-burning fire and the dilemmas of trying to manage it. In America’s Fires, Stephen Pyne, the acclaimed fire historian, reviews the historical context of fire issues and policies in the United States. The resulting analysis shows why it is imperative that the nation review its policies toward wildland fires and find ways to live with them more intelligently.
Stephen J. Pyne is a professor emeritus at Arizona State University. He specializes in environmental history and the history of exploration.