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Our love-hate relationship with fire

Fire provides warmth, safety, clean drinking water and cooked food. But fire is also an unruly beast, bringing with it the threat of devastation and death.

Our evolutionary history has been shaped by fire.

Intense fire, while obviously destructive, can be vital for maintaining biodiversity and evolution has adapted the plants and animals in particularly fire-prone ecosystems to cope with the threat – and to rebound vibrantly afterwards.

After decades of successful wildfire suppression fires are expected to be far worse and this is already becoming evident. Now as wildfires increase in frequency, the cost of keeping them at bay is soaring.

In order to reduce the risk of devastating fires there must be new management strategies with three main options on the table.

The first is the least controversial:

  • use machines to clear out understory vegetation, dead trees and non-native plants to prevent a build-up of potential kindling.

The other two options are more contentious:

  • either use regular controlled burning or
  • manage natural fires and allow them to run their course.

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