Wild land fire
Wild land fire on the lands around us can very dangerous. They are not only capable of destroying resources such as forests and fields but can also cause damage to the historic cultural resources that we want to protect. A good example of such fire damages is the recent fire in Mesa Verde National Park. Around 1996, a thousand years the heat of wildfire irreparably damaged old petroglyph. The apparently indelible images in the sandstone can be exfoliated away under sustained intense heat.
The damage to cultural resources that wild land fire can bring, is not only caused by the head from the fire but also by the actions of those who are trying to fight the fire. In early years of fire fighting, fighters that were not informed about laws banning the removal of artifacts basically destroyed archeologically important sites when suppressing the fire. A lot was done to prevent such things from occurring in the future, but there is still much to be completely understood and figured out.
Effects of fire are very dependent on how intensive the fire is, the depth of the heat’s penetration in the soil, duration. Usually, a fire’s intensity in other words a measure of the severity of fire is often described al low, moderate or heavy. Some ecosystems’ fire regimes indicate much hotter fires. Others, like those whose winds blow up steep hills, allow more quickly moving fires. Knowing the fire regime of the ecosystem you are managing–the vegetation, climate, and terrain–is key to understanding the behavior of fire. Add to this an understanding of the fire suppression activities in the area, including physical impacts from both fire and the firefighters, and a clearer picture develops of the potential for damage to cultural resources from wild land fire.
Before making any tactical decision, firefighting managers will try to assess the conditions for burning in the certain ecosystem, this is done to determine if a cool burn is possible. The inventory of ecological conditions is important and so is cataloging of the resources for protection within a management area. The technology of geographic information systems can greatly contribute to mapping the natural and cultural resources of an area, and there is potential for using geographical positioning systems in the field to assist firefighters in avoiding culturally sensitive areas.
In order for a fire crew to adequately protect these areas from fire and firefighting, they must understand fully the location and relative sensitivity of the resources. Internal communications and the proactive planning described above are central to effectively protecting our cultural resources. Archeologists can benefit from an understanding of firefighting, and frontline fire crews should be educated about cultural resource protection. Without such communication among disciplines and agencies, our cultural heritage will continue to fall victim to wild land fires and, in some cases, prescribed fire.
National Park is an example of the coordination needed in firefighting in order to minimize the damage to artifacts by modern fires. Burning through an area of great archeological significance, the Bircher fire was fought on the frontline by both firefighters and archeologists. As the flames continued to spread uncontained, both groups toiled alongside each other in a joint effort to save the natural and cultural resources of the past and the future. The fire crews hiked into the canyons and mesas, aided by archeologists who pointed out ancient ruins that needed special protection. As the fire continued to expose new sites in its deforested wake, archeologists helped firefighters identify these sites and marked them with color-coded flags. Where possible, frontline fire crews were able to construct the fire line around the marked sites and protect them. It is this kind of interdisciplinary teamwork that has been born out of a new understanding and appreciation for the significance and delicacy of our nation’s cultural resources.