Between two fires: The past and future of fire in America

Stephen Pyne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Today, the American fire scene provokes widespread dismay. Most landscapes are reckoned to suffer from a deficit of fire not a surfeit; the fires that do occur are no longer in sync with the biota; and when wildfire occurs firefighting is hideously expensive and seemingly helpless against an ever-growing ecological insurrection. The fire story tracks the latest iteration in humanity's species monopoly over fire. In the first phase, people could start fire, and within limits stop it. The power of fire, however, rested on the land's ability to spread or contain it. In the second phase, people could create combustibles by cutting, draining, loosing domesticated stock, and otherwise making burnable what, by nature, would not burn or would burn only in less usable seasons. Behind the strategy was alarm over climate change. Specifically, the colonizing state feared that feckless deforestation would lead to droughts and floods and would enhance diseases, which would render colonies burdens rather than assets.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)129-139
Number of pages11
JournalPenn State Environmental Law Review
Issue number2
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Law


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