After 100 years of fire suppression, dense forests lead to catastrophic fires.

With more people living in fire prone areas, pressure to save property and the need to let forests burn are at odds, and the cost of fire is rising.

This five-part series explores how the American West is in a fire trap.


Losing the war on wildfire

This is Year 113 of the U.S. government’s war on wildfire.

Wildfire is winning.

Savvy foresters realized as early as the 1960s that they would lose, and it was better to treat fire as an essential part of the ecosystem instead of a combat opponent.

“You cannot suppress fire in fire-prone vegetation and landscapes indefinitely. All you do is create more fire in the future,” said Rick Trembath of...

Rangers tread tricky path when deciding to let fires burn

Every time a lightning storm rumbles through a forest, the rangers in charge have to decide how to handle the multitude of little fires that start: Smother them quickly, or let them burn out naturally.

But it’s not always a simple choice between two options.

Often, the crew that first responds to a lightning strike will decide on the spot to put the fire out. But if the fire is too remote to reach, or there are too many...

Firefighters see changing climate

No doubt about it, firefighters say. It's getting hotter.

Wildland firefighters usually cite three main reasons for the recent increase in large, costly fires.

In addition to the buildup of brush and small trees from a century of successful fire suppression, there's also dryness and heat.

A drought that has gripped the West on and off for more than a decade has dried out many of the forests.

Firefighters...



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