Mario Villalobos

“Kiss the black.”

When you’re building line, you’re taught to dig as close to the black as possible. The black means the burnt areas on the ground. A burnt area can’t re-burn, so it’s also the place you’re told to go if you need a safe place to go in case the fire rages out of control. You want to “kiss the black” because you want to give an active fire as little fuel as possible. As a wildland firefighter, building line is one of the things you do the most. It’s what helps contain the fire, and it’s what helps end fires.

What people don’t understand about forest fires is that they’re natural. Forests have to burn. They have to burn to get rid of all the dead trees and vegetation littering the ground; they have to burn because many species of trees depend on fires to reproduce; they have to burn so our forests can be healthy.

One of the reasons why our fire seasons have been so bad these past couple of years—other than climate change—is because our forests have gone years and years without controlled burns. Indigenous Americans know this and they have maintained their forests this way for generations. But modern Americans don’t.

And that pisses me off.

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