Raging wildfires have devastated vast areas of California and Australia in recent years, and predictions are that we will see more of the same in coming years, as a result of climate change. But this is nothing new. Since the dawn of life on land, large-scale fires have played their part in shaping life on Earth.
Andrew Scott tells the whole story of fire's impact on our planet's atmosphere, climate, vegetation, ecology, and the evolution of plant and animal life. It has caused mass extinctions, and it has propelled the spread of flowering plants.
The exciting evidence we can now draw on has been preserved in fossilized charcoal, found in rocks hundreds of millions of years old, from all over the world. These reveal incredibly fine details of prehistoric plants, and tell us about climates from deep in earth's history. They also give us insight into how early hominids and humans tamed fire and used it.
Looking at the impact of wildfires in our own time, Scott also looks forward to how we might better manage them in future, as climate change has an increasing effect on our world.
1: Introducing fire - the shaper of Earth and life
2: Getting dirty - charcoal and what it can tell us
4: The rise, fall and rise of fire
5: Fire, flowers and dinosaurs
6: Fire and the coming of the modern world
8: The archaeology of fire
9: The future of fire
Andrew Scott is Emeritus Professor of Geology and a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow at Royal Holloway, University of London. He has co-authored and edited several academic books on fire, most recently Fire on Earth: An Introduction (Wiley-Blackwell, 2014), with David M. J. S. Bowman, William J. Bond, Stephen J. Pyne, and Martin E. Alexander. He appears regularly on radio and television science programmes.
"Wildfire, that force of nature that terrifies us all, has played a vital role in the evolution of life and environments on Earth for million of years. Andrew Scott tells a fascinating personal story of his research into charcoal and the history of fire through geological time – and how fire will, no doubt, play a major role in our future warm world."
– Dame Jane Francis, British Antarctic Survey
"Andrew Scott's career-long obsession with fire has paid dividends. His detailed and entertaining book gives us a 'no-stone-unturned' account of the natural history of fire. It takes us on an extraordinary journey from fires on heathlands to the working of the Earth system with remarkable implications for life on the planet."
– David Beerling, author of The Emerald Planet
"This deep time perspective shows that fire has always been with us, and raises the question about how we should live with it in the future."
– Sir Peter Crane FRS, President, Oak Spring Garden Foundation and Former Director of the Royal Botanic Garden Kew
"Scott shows how the occurrence of fire through Earth history provides a new lens through which to understand the evolution of plants, animals, landscapes and climate changes through the last 450 million years, and to consider possible effects on human welfare. I recommend it to anyone curious about Earth history."
– Jennifer A. Clack, FRS, Professor Emeritus of Vertebrate Palaeontology, Cambridge University