Does Fire Suppression Make Fires Worse ?
California shrubland fires are increasingly destructive and it is widely thought that fire suppression has made the problem worse; that is, by putting wildfires out we allow fuel to build up, making the next fire even larger. However when Jon Keeley, C.J. Fotheringham and Marco Morais analyzed California’s fire history back to 1910 they found that fires have not increased over that time1. They also found that the total area burned in southern California has stayed about the same as it was ninety years ago. This in spite of major efforts at fire suppression. Dr. Keeley calls this the Red Queen effect: we keep running faster to stay in the same place with respect to wildfires. We spoke with him about his work over the years studying the fire ecology of southern California.