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"Painting, architecture, politics, even gardening and golf – all have their critics and commentators," observes Stephen Pyne. "Fire does not." Aside from news reports on fire disasters, most writing about fire appears in government reports and scientific papers – and in journalism that has more in common with the sports page than the editorial page.
Smokechasing presents commentaries by one of America's leading fire scholars, who analyzes fire the way another might an election campaign or a literary work. Smokechasing is an American coinage describing the practice of sending firefighters into the wild to track down the source of reported smoke. Now a self-described "friendly fire critic" tracks down more of the history and lore of fire in a collection that focuses on wildland fire and its management. Building on and complementing a previous anthology, World Fire, this new collection features thirty-two original articles and substantial revisions of works that have previously appeared in print. Pyne addresses many issues that have sparked public concern in the wake of disastrous wildfires in the West, such as fire ecology, federal fire management, and questions relating to fire suppression. He observes that the mistake in fire policy has been not that wildfires are suppressed but that controlled fires are no longer ignited; yet the attempted forced reintroduction of fire through prescribed burning has proved difficult, and sometimes damaging. There are, Pyne argues, many fire problems; some have technical solutions, some not. But there is no evading humanity's unique power and responsibility: what we don't do may be as ecologically powerful as what we do.
Throughout the collection, Pyne makes it clear that humans and fire interact at particular places and times to profoundly shape the world, and that understanding the contexts in which fire occurs can tell us much about the world's natural and cultural landscapes. Fire's context gives it its meaning, and Smokechasing not only helps illuminate those contexts but also shows us how to devise new contexts for tomorrow's fires.
"With another likely summer of fire on America's dry western horizon, this timely volume of essays stirs the embers of an unfinished national debate about how to live with wildfire [...] Timely and provocative, Smokechasing should be required reading for all on the front lines of the USA's continuing fight over wildfire – especially members of Congress, federal land managers, and the growing millions who live in the perilous 'intermix' zone where suburban development and fire-prone wild lands meet."
– USA Today
"Recognized as the foremost authority on the ecology and history of fire, prolific author Pyne offers [...] a unique and thoughtful examination of the development of wildfire policy and how it continues to evolve."
– Library Journal
"In a departure from his more lengthy historical narratives, Pyne directs his efforts toward 'a more robust literary inquiry,' in an attempt ' to analyze fire as [he] would an art moderne house, an election campaign, or a rereading of Ulysses.' The result is as remarkable as it is varied. Some of the best essays exhibit Pyne's sharp and astute analyses of how different fire-based systems and practices are used by various cultures [...] Overall, these sharply written essays argue convincingly for Pyne's core belief that 'fire practices are, ultimately, a moral matter, relating to who we are and how we should behave.' "
– Publishers Weekly
"Pyne remains on message, always returning to his point that good public fire policy must strike a balance between total suppression and uncontrolled burning, and urging that such a policy be set locally, to meet local needs. Whether or not you've heard this all before, it's rewarding to hear it again, if only for the pleasure of a prose style that slices through tangled thickets like a bulldozer clearing a fire line, and lights up the darkness like a blazing fire."
– Natural History
"This is not a book touting restorative wildland fire; it's a kind of bible about natural law."
– Eastern Oregonian
"Pyne has added another rung to his ladder of successful books on wildland fire [...] His analysis of current fire suppression and prescribed burning approaches, where the ability to impose changes on natural ecosystems can be related to what is not done as much as to what is done, is especially poignant [...] Highly recommended."
"Fans of Pyne's work will recognize his signature observations – startling in their freshness – which have risen to the level of near maxims in the canon of fire literature. But Smokechasing also offers new ways of thinking about fire that are tantalizing in their implications."
"Pyne neither panders to the greens by proclaiming fire itself a cure for sick forests, nor does he reduce fire to a blunt instrument [...] No matter what aspect of fire you are most interested in, Smokechasing will probably satisfy. It's not slash and burn writing, but it does smolder with accumulated wisdom."
– Restoring Connections
"Perhaps the most important of Stephen Pyne's 15 previously published books [...] Anyone with an interest in fire, professionally or from mere curiosity, will discover that this book reveals as much about our culture and the times and which we live as it does about wildfire."
– American Forests