Image: in the aftermath of a fire, burned trees contrast starkly with a green mountainous forest.

The inviting fire that glows from a campsite is the same chemical reaction that reduces entire towns to ashes, and the flame that springs from a lit match has the power to blacken the crowns of majestic, ancient pines. Humans enjoy the many benefits of controlled fire, but the destruction caused by catastrophic wildfires illustrates that much remains unknown about contemporary society's impact on the natural world.

Arizona's massive 2002 Rodeo/Chediski wildfire embodied many essential issues related to wildfire prevention and attack. Environmental concerns spring from a forest overloaded with fuel and dried by drought. Political concerns may inhibit prescribed fires and thinning which some believe could bring relief to stressed ecosystems. Desperation born of economic hardship can fan the flames, as can unwise use of wilderness areas. Eventually, even the most destructive fires can be overcome by cooperation, quick and logical thinking, and sacrifice.

Wildland firefighters risk their lives to perform dangerous and grueling tasks during each fire season. The sublime scale of fire in the wilderness, the unforgettable memories, and the sheer excitement of firefighting keep crew members longing for the next fire season. Many insist their work is not especially heroic, but communities that have been threatened by wildfire tell a different story.

Recognizing that fire is the greatest immediate natural danger facing residents of the Colorado Plateau, the staff of the Cline Library Special Collections and Archives Department at Northern Arizona University embarked on a project to document the history and impact of wildland fires. Explore over 30 hours of oral history interviews featuring firefighters, ecology and forestry specialists, environmental activists, and National Forest and Parks representatives, accompanied by fire-related photographs, reports, and eye-witness accounts.

Site Credits:

Content Creation and Selection: Elizabeth and P.T. Reilly and Miriam Lemont Summer Interns: Anne M. Holcomb, Robert Marvin Garcia Hunt, and Jennifer Kern
Site Design: Andrew Roazen
Instructional Design: Laura Taylor
Digital Conversion: Walter Hoke, Stacey Peterson, Yuan Long
Transcription Services: Barb Jardee
Sound effects: Sound Ideas
Special thanks to: Jean Collins, Professor Emerita; U.S. Forest Service personnel Steve Dudley, George Sheppard, and Bill Jackson, City of Flagstaff Fuel Manager Paul Summerfelt and all those who generously provided oral histories and field interviews.

Northern Arizona University
Cline Library
Special Collections and Archives Department

P.O. Box 6022
Flagstaff, AZ 86011-6022
(928) 523-5551 · Fax (928) 523-3770

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