Conference / Symposium

Fire, Fire Mapping and Fire Breaks: Mini-Symposium

Sponsored by Stanford University Libraries, David Rumsey Map Center


Friday, February 26, 2021
2:30 pm – 4:30 pm
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Event Details:

The David Rumsey Map Center will host Stephen Pyne and Gray Brechin at a mini-symposium on fire, fire mapping and fire breaks. The speakers will discuss American fire history and policy from the late 19th century to the present as well as the importance of the Ponderosa Way fire break as a prototype for fire stoppage.

It will be held Friday, February 26, 2021 on Zoom. Schedule below:

2:15pm PST - Zoom opens
2:30 - Introductions, housekeeping
2:35 - Talk by Stephen Pyne
3:15 - Talk by Gray Brechin
4:05 - Q&A

Register here.

Information on the talks:

Stephen Pyne: "A Billion Burnable Acres. America Between Three Fires"
A survey history of wildland and rural fire beginning with the 1880 census.  Then, the American fire scene was much like Brazil’s today as an expansive, agricultural society rapidly industrialized.  The late 19th and early 20th centuries had monster fires, which argued for state-sponsored conservation.  Beginning in 1905, but galvanized by the 1910 fires, the US Forest Service organized a national program of fire control.  The ill consequences of total fire exclusion sparked a revolution in policy and practice during the 1960s and 1970s that replaced Forest Service hegemony with a pluralism of policies and institutions aimed at restoring good fire, with mixed results.  Now climate change is acting on these pre-existing conditions as the sum of humanity’s fire practices seems to be creating the fire equivalent of an ice age. 

Steve Pyne is an emeritus professor at Arizona State University; in a former life he was a member of the North Rim Longshots fire crew for 15 seasons, and a crew boss for 12.  He has written fire histories for the U.S., Australia, Canada, Europe (including Russia), and Earth overall.  Other books deal with exploration, most recently The Great Ages of Discovery. How Western Civilization Learned About a Wider World.

Gray Brechin: "Ponderosa Way: Rediscovering the World’s Longest and Most Forgotten Fire Break in California"
Between 1933 and 1935, the Civilian Conservation Corps cut a fire break the length of the Sierra Nevada foothills to keep blazes from the brushy lower levels from reaching valuable timber at higher elevations. Reported at the time to be 650 to 800 miles in length, it was quickly abandoned and forgotten for the purpose for which it was built so that today much of it is as difficult to map as to traverse. Nonetheless, the Ponderosa Way provides a prototype for slowing and stopping blazes in what Stephen Pyne calls the new Pyrocene as well as providing evacuation routes for those trapped by advancing infernos. A revived CCC could not only build and maintain such fuel breaks and fight fires but provide jobs and training in a Green New Deal. 

Dr. Gray Brechin is an historical geographer, the author of Imperial San Francisco, a frequent radio and television guest, and a popular public speaker. He is currently a visiting scholar in the U.C. Berkeley Department of Geography and founder and project scholar of the Living New Deal.