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Flame and Fortune in the American WestUrban Development, Environmental Change, and the Great Oakland Hills Fire$
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Gregory L. Simon

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780520292802

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520292802.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CALIFORNIA SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.california.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of California Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CALSO for personal use.date: 03 July 2022

Smoke Screen

Smoke Screen

When Explaining Wildfires Conceals the Incendiary

(p.109) 6 Smoke Screen
Flame and Fortune in the American West

Gregory L. Simon

University of California Press

This chapter presents three cases that illustrate how the underlying drivers of wildland-urban interface (WUI) wildfires frequently mischaracterize the relative role of ecological and social structures of influence. The first case explores the rather unscientific origins of the term firestorm and the credibility it is afforded as a legitimate fire classification through its normative use and acceptance in mainstream fire discourse. This process diminishes the very social and profitable origins of the WUI fire problem and naturalizes these areas as a hazardous by-product of larger, exogenous, and inviolable environmental forces such as climate change. The second case examines recent efforts to study and explain the relationship between mountain pine beetles and fire activity in the western United States. The third case describes the deeply political and protracted process of challenging the economically powerful wood shingle and cedar shake industry. Collectively all three cases illustrate how contemporary discourses on fire tend to truncate the scope of what counts (or is allowed to be brought to the debate table) as an underlying driver of increased fire activity in the West.

Keywords:   wildland-urban interface wildfires, Oakland Hills Tunnel Fire, firestorm, fire classification, mountain pine beetles, western United States

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