Anthropology and Environment Society
Oral Presentation Session
Fires are fundamental for forest ecology in Florida and most of the southern United States. They are frequent in both the natural and the social history of this area, where plant species and earlier human societies adapted to such events. However, development processes of the last century have changed the natural forest fire equilibrium. Natural low intensity forest fires have been suppressed and the few that cannot be suppressed become wildfires, a type of fire intensified by socio economic conditions. Suppressing natural forest fires and promoting prescribed/artificial forest fires has been the core of public policy for more than a century. However, that procedure, combined with natural and socioeconomic events, has created one of the most devastating kinds of disaster in the US, in general, and in Florida, in particular. Discussing the ideological construction that induces people to fear forest fires and to accept them only as a forest management tool, in this paper I analyze the importance of socioeconomic trends and public policies in the transformation of forest fires into wildfires in the state of Florida. Although forest fires are feared, they are also needed because of their ecological role, though in this respect they are allowed only in timber plantations as prescribed fires. Consequently, as indicated in the conclusions, the suppression of natural/public forests fires and the promotion of artificial / private prescribed fires have rendered the state of Florida unavoidably vulnerable to wildfires.