Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Quote: Native American Fire Practices

From Ghosts of the Fireground by Peter M. Leschak (page 57):

...when European settlers arrived in North America, many adopted fire practices that Native Americans had employed for centuries. Tribes ignited and broadcast fire to herd and/or trap wild game, in some cases forcing deer onto narrow peninsulas, transforming the confined area into a shooting gallery. Or they burned off tree moss that deer favored as food, thus encouraging them to move into more open country where they were easier to hunt. Fires were set to smoke bears or raccoons out of dens. Indians used purposeful fire to harvest or nurture wild crops such as tarweed and various berries or to surround and roast insects such as grasshoppers. Burns could increase forage for wild and domestic animals; thus while driving deer or bison with fire, they were also rejuvenating the creatures' food supply as the fire released nutrients into the soil. They created firebreaks around villages, a popular and effective tactic to this day; a careful burnout or backfire (a deliberate counter fire set to deny fuel to another blaze) might buffer a single home or a subdivision being threatened by a wildfire. They employed fire as a tool of war, to remove the cover of tall grass or brush to preclude an ambush, or to destroy an enemy settlement.

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