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The ecological importance of mixed-severity fire: nature's phoenix

Editor(s): Dominick A. DellaSala, Chad T. Hanson
Year Published: 2015
Description:

If you are a curious reader with a knack for the analytical, you may be asking yourself, Why start a book about fire ecology with a mythological figure? And if you are a tried-and-true scientist, like we are, you may also be asking, Isn’t it a bit risky to mix myth with science, fact with fiction, observation with mystique, nature with reincarnation? But the mythological phoenix is exactly the right place to begin an ecological story of mixed- and high-severity fires. We open with ancient phoenix mythology stories as told by Greeks, Egyptians, Romans, Christians, Native Americans, Chinese, and, yes, even in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, where fire metaphorically engulfs the old in order to give birth to the new. To anyone that has marveled at the remarkable restorative powers of a postfire landscape, this is exactly what unfolds when a forest, woodland, or shrubland is burned by intense fire. So why not mix in a little myth before we give you a heavy dose of reality? Greek mythology states that the phoenix (or phenix; φοı˜νιξ) lives for 500 years, builds a nest when it barely has any life force left, and calls upon the Sun to ignite the nest it is perched on, which then consumes the bird in flames, only for the phoenix to be reborn from its own ashes in brilliance. In fire’s essence, the phoenix symbolizes a desire for immortality, resurrection, life everlasting—ah, to be young again—along with the qualities of inspiration, beauty, and self-awareness; rise up and be reborn! (see http://www.phoenixarises.com/phoenix/legends/legends.htm; accessed January 23, 2015). In severely burned areas there is also an ecological resurrection of sorts; the newborn fire-dependent biota emerges from the ancestral “corpses” (ashes, snags) of its fire-killed parents. But this is not a story about death or loss; rather, in the aftermath of fire-kill is the essence of nature and its fire-mediated, lifegiving force. Hence, severe fire, much like the phoenix, is the ultimate change agent. Whether in mythology or in ecology, death is but a new beginning! Life and death are joined in the relentless march of time spanning ecosystems and human cultures.Thus we begin this book with fire as nature’s phoenix by calling attention to the ecological importance of mixed- and high-severity fires precisely because most researchers have minimized the breadth of these fires, land managers would rather suppress them, and the public fears them. While this book is about mixed- and high-severity fires, which are the most misunderstood components of mixed-severity fire regimes, for simplicity we use the term “higher-severity fire” as short-hand for both severities.

Citation: DellaSala DA, Hanson CT. 2015. The ecological importance of mixed-severity fire: nature's phoenix. Waltham, MA: Elsevier. 450 p.
Topic(s): Fire Communication & Education, Public Perspectives of Fire Management, Fire Ecology, Human Dimensions of Fire Management, Organizational Effectiveness, Decisionmaking & Sensemaking, Post-fire Management, Recovery after fire
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 16303
Record updated: Mar 14, 2018