🔊 Listening to experience: how ancient wisdom is fighting today’s wildfires

Forest fires are a growing problem, due to global warming; one solution lies in Native Americans’ traditional ways of tending Nature

Listen below to Alastair & Clarisse!

Podcast transcript, Sept. 18

A – Hello and welcome to WoW!, the positive podcast! Showing kids that there’s a lot more to the world news than bad news.

I’m Alastair. As a journalist, I’ve often written about things going wrong. But people also need to know too about what’s going right.

This week, we’ve got a solution to a … burning problem.


C – Hello Alastair !

A – Hi Clarisse. How are you doing? What’s it like in Paris today?

C – I’m OK thanks. But it’s really hot here in Paris.

A – Really? I bet it’s not as hot as it is in California, though?

C – Ah you mean where the forests are burning?

A – Yes, Clarisse. Global warming has been causing more and more forest fires, all over the world. And in California, they’ve broken records this year for how much woodland they’ve lost. Just imagine, an area about half the size of Belgium has gone up in flames and the fires are still burning.

C – Hm, it seems terrible. And there’s not much we can do about it.

A – It’s certainly horrible. It’s really dangerous. People have lost their homes and of course it’s awful for all the birds and animals who live in the woods. One thing we all have to do is to try and stop the climate change that is making the fires worse. We need to live a little differently everywhere in the world. But that will take time.

C – So the fires will get bigger and bigger for a long time to come?

A – Well, Clarisse, that’s what I wanted to talk about. Because for this burning problem for planet Earth, there is a quicker solution – I guess you could call it a burning solution.

C – A burning solution?

A – Yes, Clarisse, you might say fighting fire with fire.

C – You’ve lost me! Explain please, Alastair!

A – Well, in this week’s issue of WoW!, over at wow dash news dot eu, we introduce folk to Elizabeth. She’s a granny who lives in California. And she spends her time teaching people how to start fires in the woods. It’s something she learned from her own grand-dad.

C – Really? She starts fires? Doesn’t that make things worse?

A – Ah no! That’s the trick, Clarisse. You see Elizabeth and her grandpa are Native Americans. Their ancestors have lived in the woods of California for thousands of years, long before people came from Europe to take over most of America. They lived in harmony with the Nature around them and they used fires to manage the forest – not to burn down the trees but to clear all the old grass and bushes that live underneath the trees. That helped clear space for new plants to grow, like medicinal berries or hazelnut saplings, which local people make into baskets to carry babies on their backs. It also gave room under the trees for people and big animals to move through the woods easily. And the burned bushes produced lots of minerals that made the soil and the water cleaner and more fruitful.

C – Hm, but surely now it’s really dangerous to make fires in the forest?

A – Well it would be if you or I were to do it, that’s for sure. But Elizabeth and her friends know what they’re doing. They make fires mostly in winter, when the ground is damp and there’s not much wind, so the fires won’t get too big to control. And by clearing away all the dry old bushes, the undergrowth, they make it much harder for those hot summer fires to spread.

C – That sounds interesting. But what’s new about this if they’ve been doing it for so long?

A – Ah well, they haven’t quite, you see. When the Europeans came to America they were so afraid of the fires that they made it against the law for people like Elizabeth’s grandpa to carry on their traditions of making fires. And so for more than a hundred years, all that grass and bushes in the California forest has just been getting thicker and thicker. And now with global warming it’s got drier and drier and once a fire starts in summer it gets a huge help from all that underbrush. Wildfire can spread faster than you can run. But if it doesn’t have all those bushes to feed on, it moves much more slowly, giving people time to put them out.

C – So is it now legal for Elizabeth to make her fires?

A – Yes, in the last few years, the authorities in California have started making partnerships with people like Elizabeth. She helps train people to make these little ‘medicinal fires’, mostly in winter, to help heal the forest. In Australia, where people started learning a few years earlier from local people, there are places where they’ve cut the amount of forest destroyed in fires each year by half. That’s pretty impressive.

C – It sounds like a great solution!

A – I think it shows what we say so often at WoW! – it really helps to listen to people. You might be surprised at what they know and how their knowledge can help you.

C – Thanks, Alastair. I think that’s a really good thought to keep in mind this week!

A – Thanks, Clarisse. Now I’ll let you go, and I’m also going to say my goodbyes to listeners for this week because I’d like you to listen with me as we go to the sound of Native Americans preparing to burn an area of woodland, to help heal the forest. You’ll hear the tribal elder clicking a stick in time to his chanting. He’s asking the trees and the birds, the bears and the other animals, the spirits of his ancestors who live in woods, if it’s all right for the group to start dripping fire on the ground to burn a little area. It’s cool, it’s still and this is what it sounds like…


Alastair editor of WoW!




Isabelle Maradan





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