Fire-scarred trees record 700 years of natural and cultural fire history in a northern forest

I have all kinds of reasons for being interested in the effects that fire has on forests, so this grabbed my attention. And look, it’s full of interesting historical info, too! From Fire-scarred trees record 700 years of natural and cultural fire history in a northern forest.

From AD 1300 to 1600, wildfires ignited during late summer, with about 5-10 ignitions per quarter century, generally occurring during warm, dry summers.

In the next two centuries, fire frequency rose dramatically, particularly in the mid-17th century. Early summer fires grew in prevalence. Books and other documents from this time period record a rising use of slash-and-burn cultivation and rangeland burning, explained author Ken Olaf Storaunet. The population was recovering from the devastation of the Black Death and several subsequent epidemics. People returned to abandoned lands and began using fire to improve land for grazing animals and to cultivate crops. The average length of time between recurrences of fire in the same location fell by half, from 73 to 37 years.

Increasing demand for timber in Europe raised the value of forests and discouraged slash-and-burn cultivation practices. The fires legislation banning the use of fire in Norway came in 1683. After AD 1800, fire frequency and size dropped precipitously, with only 19 fires occurring in the study area during the last 200 years.

Ecologically, the period from 1625 and onwards to today is probably unique, and something that perhaps has not happened in thousands of years, Storaunet said. [continue]

Creative and forgotten fire escape designs of the 1800s

Oh my. So many of these are insane! From Atlas Obscura: The Creative and Forgotten Fire Escape Designs of the 1800s.

In the morning of March 10, 1860, a crowd of several hundred New Yorkers looked up curiously at a long cloth chute dangling from the top of City Hall. The tube was supported by ropes along its sides, with one end fastened to the top of the building and the other held by people on the ground. “Through this bottomless bag the persons in danger are expected to slide,” reported Scientific American in its March 10 issue.

A group of adventurous boys and men slid daringly through the chute, the spectators both relieved and amused when they reached the ground in one piece.

That one doesn’t sound too bad, eh? We’ve seen the modern equivalent. But wait’ll you see the illustration for a “winged fire escape invention”. And this, oh this:

B.B. Oppenheimer’s 1879 patent for a fire escape helmet would have included a wax cloth chute, about four to five feet in diameter, attached in “a suitable manner” to the head. “A person may safely jump out of the window of a burning building from any height and land without injury and without the least damage on the ground,” Oppenheimer wrote. To soften the impact, his invention also featured overshoes with thick elastic bottom pads. [continue]

London ‘alight’ for Great Fire retelling

Wow! From the BBC: London ‘alight’ for Great Fire retelling.

A giant wooden replica of 17th century London has been set ablaze on the River Thames in a retelling of the Great Fire of London 350 years ago.

Crowds gathered on the banks of the Thames to watch the 120-metre long model go up in flames. [continue]

This is spectacular. You’ve got to go see the photos!

Leif Haugen, Fire Lookout

From Leif Haugen, Fire Lookout.

The old tent creaks and buckles under the force of the fierce wind blowing from the west as I sleep. The tall windows of the nearby fire lookout tower rattle and shake. The sun sets behind a distant peak, clouds roll in and the clear blue sky slowly turns to the burnt orange of dusk. It took the better part of a day’s travel to get to the top of this mountain.

The journey began at a small town on a gravel road. With only a general store, a handful of houses, a seasonal restaurant and a hostel, it is really more like an outpost than a town. Where the twisted gravel road stopped, a footpath began. The narrow path moved through a moss-encrusted forest riddled with downed trees and followed the drainage of a cold, clear alpine creek. Near the top, the trees separated on the ridge to reveal an expansive view of a long valley. Just beyond this spot was my destination, a tiny shack balanced on the brow of a mountain. This is the place where Leif Haugen has spent the past several summers. I’ve come to talk with Haugen and get a first-hand peek behind the often-romanticized veneer of what it means to be a fire lookout.

Haugen is a fire lookout with the U.S. Forest Service. During the summer months, his job is to maintain watch over the pristine wilderness that surrounds his remote post a few miles south of the Canadian border in northwest Montana. He’s from Minnesota and learned about the lookout life through literature, securing his first job as a lookout with the help of a friend in 1994. He’s been returning ever since. “It’s a great way to spend the summer,” he says. “There aren’t a lot of choices, but all of the choices are things I enjoy doing: walking, reading, writing, carpentry and taking a good long look around.” [continue]

Chimps can learn to cook

From NPR: Chimps Are No Chumps: Give Them An Oven, They’ll Learn To Cook.

If you give a chimp an oven, he or she will learn to cook.

That’s what scientists concluded from a study that could help explain how and when early humans first began cooking their food.

“This suggests that as soon as fire was controlled, cooking could have ramped up,” says Alexandra Rosati, an evolutionary biologist at Yale and a co-author of the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Evidence suggests early humans learned to control fire between 400,000 and 2 million years ago.

Rosati and Felix Warneken, a psychologist at Harvard University, carried out the study at a chimpanzee sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. First, the researchers gave the chimps a device that appeared to work like an oven. [continue]

Starved for fire, Wisconsin’s pine barrens disappear

When humans rush to extinguish every wildfire, wildfires are not the only thing extinguished. From Science Daily: Starved for fire, Wisconsin’s pine barrens disappear.

A century spent treating wildfires as emergencies to be stamped out may have cost Central Wisconsin a natural setting that was common and thriving before the state was settled.

Pine barrens once stretched like a scarf around the state’s neck, from the northeast down across Central Wisconsin and up again northwest to Lake Superior. As recently as the 1950s, University of Wisconsin-Madison surveys conducted by botany Professor John Curtis and graduate student James Habeck described the sandy, open spaces dotted with pin oak and jack pine and dashed with the lavender of lupine and the purple of blazing star.

“We know that the pine barrens used to be common in Wisconsin before European settlement, but now only about 1 percent of the original area remains,” says Daijiang Li, a current UW-Madison botany graduate student. With botany Professor Donald Waller, Li authored a study in the journal Ecology outlining the factors driving a deep shift in the increasingly rare plant communities that once inhabited the Central Wisconsin pine barrens. [continue]

Fort Nelson First Nation uses fire to save bison, limit wildfires

Fighting fire with fire! And also saving bison. From the CBC: Fort Nelson First Nation uses fire to save bison, limit wildfires.

Using a helicopter and a machine that pumps out 100 flaming ping-pong balls every minute, a team from the Fort Nelson First Nation recently took to the air to set fire to almost 3,000 hectares of forest in the Liard River area in northeastern British Columbia.

It’s part of the First Nation’s ongoing efforts to help a threatened herd of wood bison.

“Prescribed fire is very important to keep range land open, as far as the ability to access forage and vegetation for bison,” said Sonja Leverkus, an ecologist working with the First Nation. [continue]

The job of setting large fires for the good of eveything wouldn’t suck.

Smokey got it wrong

From the National Post: Smokey got it wrong.

Splashed with drops of burning fuel gel, trailing from a helicopter concealed by a roiling column of smoke overhead, the giant pines of Mount Nestor fire up like roman candles. A few kilometres away, on the eastern slope of Mount Nestor, Kevin Topolnicki’s team unleashes a necklace of fire from the Terra-Torch — a truck-mounted flamethrower — attacking the trees that survived an earlier air assault.

One of the men on his crew pulls over his nose a faded yellow bandana with a silk-screen of Smokey the Bear. The legendary enemy of forest fires would not be pleased about this arson attack on Alberta’s Spray Valley Provincial Park. But then, deadpans Mr. Topolnicki, duty officer for the province’s sustainable resource development ministry, "Smokey was wrong."

At least, that is the opinion of forest managers in Alberta, who have rediscovered fire in a big way after decades of working to eradicate it from virtually every last tree. [continue]

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