Monday, November 5, 2012

The November 1 Billings Gazette published an article on this year’s wild fires, stating that they were the worst since 1910. We came out of the fire season relatively unscathed in Helena—but I’m sure many of you are still dealing with the fallout. My thoughts are with your communities.

The Billings Gazette article brought to mind a post I wrote awhile back about using disasters as a way to engage students in larger questions.
It also made me wonder if last year’s fire season offers a “teachable moment.” If so, here are some resources for teaching about fire and fire history. Most are taken from the Montana: Stories of the Land Teachers Guide and Companion Website, Chapter 12.
  • Tales of the 1910 Fire is an exhibit, including a first-hand account of the fires by a forest ranger, created by Archives & Special Collections, Maureen and Mike Mansfield Library.
  • The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes' "Fire of the Land" website is a great resource in itself and includes links to many additional resources.
  • The US Forest Service has gathered information on the history of smoke jumping.
  • The Great 1910 Fire is a website that has transcribed newspaper articles, lists of fire victims and photographs.
Interested in changes how fire policy has changed since 1910? We created this bibliography for National History Day students, but it’s a good starting point for any researcher.  Other interesting sources include:
As I’m sure you know—probably better than I—one of the reasons fire-fighting is so expensive today is the “Wildland Urban Interface” (in other words, people have increasingly built homes in the woods.) When homes are threatened, the state and federal government pull out the stops to protect them. What should the government’s approach toward fire protection be in the Wildland-Urban Interface? This has been a hot button issue in past years, and will likely continue to be debated.  Consider asking students to research and then write (and/or present) policy briefs to your local legislator and/or county commissioners. (Former middle school teacher Jim Schulz said having students present decision-makers with their research—and proposed solutions—to current problems was the all-time best activity he ever did with his students.)
Looking for sources? There are some links on the topic in the Chapter 12 End-of-Chapter Material Answer Key for Montana: Stories of the Land. (By the way, these answer keys are a gold mine of information on a large number of topics since, whenever we suggested a research project, we provided research leads in the answer keys. You’ll need a user name and password to access them (request the username and password here). Even though it was written in 2008, a good starting point for research is “Home Development on Fire-prone Lands West-wide Summary.”  A Google search for “Wildland Urban interface fire” uncovers many other sources.

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