The rise of wildfire disasters in the 21st century: what have we learned?

May 24, 2022, 3:30 p.m. - 5 p.m.
3853 Slichter Hall

Presented By:
Crystal Kolden
UC Merced &

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The rise of wildfire disasters in the 21st century: what have we learned? ABSTRACT : For most of the 20th century, the study of wildfires was dominated by ecologists and foresters, with much emphasis placed on understanding the natural role of fire in ecosystems and the physics of wildfire behavior in order to prevent firefighter fatalities. In the last two decades, however, we have seen the rise of the wildfire disaster, with widespread negative impacts to complex social-ecological-technological systems globally. What lessons have these disasters yielded, and what critical scientific gaps have they exposed? Wildfires present a unique type of disaster, different from all other disasters due to the both the singular relationship that humans have had with fire for millennia and our active and ongoing alteration of the landscape and the broader Earth system. Historically, fire science has maintained an event-focused perspective that sees fires only as a tear in the fabric of the Earth system, rather than as an integral thread in that fabric. As a result, the solutions proposed and enacted have also been event-focused, leading to outcomes that reinforce feedback loops and further exacerbate social inequalities and irreversible losses. Here, I examine the lessons learned from wildfire disasters and how those lessons can be applied in an interdisciplinary framework to develop more comprehensive solutions to live with wildfire.