This presentation was part of PechaKucha Taos, Volume 13, held in Questa in July, 2014. All presentations related to the “Thinking Wilderness” theme, marking the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness act. Read more about the event here.
For Thousands of years, the North American West has lived and evolved with fire as an essential part of the natural environment. Fire has spread with low intensity across the land, recycling nutrients and refreshing the landscape.
In 1910, after the “Big Burn”, which burned an area the size of Connecticut in 36 hours, humans declared war on fire. Nobody realized then, what we would be setting up for today.
In this time, we are realizing that complete fire suppression has left us with unhealthy and overgrown forests. Not only are our forests in a sickly state, but people continue to build homes further and further into the wilderness, what we call the “WUI” (Wildland, Urban Interface).
Now it is up to us. Now we must learn to adapt to the natural phenomenon we call “Wildfire.” We must let the wilderness return to a natural regime of frequent fire and adapt our growing communities to this process.
There are three factors which determine fire behavior: weather, terrain and fuels. The only factor we can realistically manipulate is fuels.
The forests and fields around our homes and communities are fuels. Our houses are fuels. We must learn how to reduce the fuel around our homes and harden our houses against wildfire.
Then, and only then, may we be at peace with this natural process.
Chris Coté has lived in Taos County, NM since 1992 and began his firefighting career in 2001. Chris has fought and lit fires with Helicopters, Hand Crews and Engines. In those years of suppressing fires, he saw the opportunity to get ahead of the curve and teach people how to adapt to fire, hoping therefore to prevent risk to life and property. He is a current Engine Boss, Crew Boss and Type 4 Incident Commander. Chris is the Deputy Chief of Latir VFD and contracts for Taos County as a Wildland Urban Interface Coordinator. He lives in Sunshine Valley with his wife Claire, and daughter, Amber, in their owner-built, off-grid home. Chris hopes we may all learn to live with and adapt to this natural event, which we call “Wildfire.”