'The Big Burn' of 1910 transformed firefighting. Will 2020 do the same?

'The Big Burn' of 1910 transformed firefighting. Will 2020 do the same?

October 11, 2020
NBC

As California's record wildfires approached 4 million acres earlier this month, the state's top fire official compared the serial conflagrations to a pivotal event in American history — "The Big Burn" of 1910.

The century-old blaze, which tore through millions of acres in the West, transformed American wildland firefighting into the profession it is today: a force that responds to blazes with mass mobilizations of air tankers, bulldozers and "troops," as the firefighters are often called.

The official, Thom Porter, director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, suggested that 2020 could mark another turning point.

"The science that was developed to do all those things at that point in time and carried forward 100 years — it didn't do the right thing," he said. "It didn't do the thing we needed it to do right now."

"Every acre of California can and will burn someday," he added. "We need to embrace that and become resilient to it."

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