Ep. 61The Changing Fire Environment and Shifting Baseline Syndrome with “Fire Weather” Author John Vaillant


In this episode, we had a chance to sit down with author John Vaillant, who recently published a new book about the 2016 Fort McMurray fires in Northern Alberta. The book, Fire Weather: A True Story from a Hotter World, is an in-depth exploration of the fires, which released in June 2023. We not only spoke about his reporting process in the aftermath of a catastrophic wildfire, but we also touched on some of the book’s major themes and how these were, in many cases, paralleled by the 2023 fire season in Canada. 

We even did some deep diving into the oil and gas industry’s role in increasingly catastrophic fire seasons, about climate change and how we keep having unprecedented fire seasons—but our processes and protocols aren’t catching up with how extreme conditions and fire behavior have become in some cases. 

We also highly recommend  Fire Weather for those who haven’t read it yet. You can pick it up from Amanda’s favorite local bookstore, Village Books, here

Timestamps: 

06:00 – Introduction

08:14 – 2016’s Alberta Fire Warning of the Future

09:42 – John’s Thoughts on the 2023 Fire Season

12:28 – The Shifting Baseline for Fire Fighting Efforts

16:55 – Weather Conditions Affect How Fire Behaves

19:26 – People’s Humanity Makes Evacuation Efforts Possible

23:40 – Humanizing the Evacuation Process

25:01 – Interviewing Evacuees

28:18 – This Evacuation Changed Everyone’s Lives Forever

29:34 – The Oil and Gas Industry Connection to Wildfire

31:56 – Humans are a Fire Species

35:32 – Society’s Wealth Comes From Fire

37:38 – Gaps in Conversation Surrounding Wildfires

40:11 – We Have to Rethink Our Relationship With Fire

42:39 – John’s Lessons Learned

44:12 – Houses Are Made From Petroleum Products

46:49 – Firefighting 90s Style Will Not Help Us

48:40 – No Precedent for Recent Fire Events

51:40 – This Requires a Nuanced Conversation

53:45 – Outro

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