Where You At Q5: When was the last time a fire burned in your area?


The fifth question in the Where You At? bioregional quiz is:

When was the last time a fire burned in your area?

This is one of the quiz questions that reveals its Cascadian/West Coast USA origins. As Carolyn Merchant has noted in Radical Ecology: The Search for a Livable World (1992) the quiz is ‘culture-bound’. I write that because the whole concept of a fire burning ‘in your area’ seems to reflect the spread of wildfire over large parts of a landscape, something that happens regularly enough to note in California, but is much less familiar in northern Europe.

The widespread deforestation of the Atlantic Archipelago has left the UK without a lot of standing trees to burn and the climate here means that we have rarely experienced the hot, dry conditions that catalyse these types of conflagration. Climate change may alter the second of those however, especially in the driest counties like Essex. Recent years have seen Essex’s largest woodland, Epping Forest, ablaze in incidents that began as grass fires during the heatwave of 2013, and in the summer of 2016 the Met Office deliver warnings about wildfires in East Anglia.

In the summer of 2017 the Met Office’s Fire and Severity Index showed a high risk of fire in the Dengie (see image below).


The last fire I actually saw in the area was on Burnham Wick farm last autumn where they were burning the reside of the flax after harvesting the linseeds – a controlled burn. I think that the use of fire to shape the landscape of the Dengie has a long heritage going back into prehistory and may have contributed to the peninsula’s deforestation – this needs some deeper research into the archaeology, something I’ll begin as I try to answer the next Where you At? question.


Next up: I’ll try and answer – What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture that lived in your area before you?


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