The western United States is experiencing longer-burning, wider ranging, and more deadly fires now than at any point in the past century. The attitude towards fire and fire management in the rural West and Washington, however, has changed little in the last 100 years: Rather than letting it burn, as part of a natural process, firefighters must risk their lives to extinguish it; requiring the use of fire-retardant materials in homebuilding, tree-thinning on at-risk property, or restricting where homes can be built is dismissed as “big government.” In his August cover story “Combustion Engines,” Richard Manning reports from the fires that swept through Montana’s Lolo National Forest last summer and reveals the social and political obstacles to protecting American communities from fire.
In this episode, Manning, a longtime Montana resident and frequent contributor to Harper’s, joined Web Editor Violet Lucca to discuss how we must all adapt to better live with new normal. “The West is just the vanguard,” says Manning. Soon other parts of the world, including the American Northeast, will be facing fire too.