Enemy in the Forests: Narratives and Fires in the Pacific Northwest
Contemporary historians, ecologists, and foresters agree that the policy of all-out suppression of forest fires was misled and that it led to the proliferation of highly flammable fuels contributing to larger, more frequent fires over time and up to today. While historians have examined the role of science, the state, and capitalism in fire suppression policies, there is a need to turn to the use of narrative and discourse to better understand the motivation behind fire suppression. Using the Pacific Northwest as a case study, this article draws on sources from fire prevention campaigns that developed out of World War II and the fear that forest fires would threaten the war effort. It shows how organizations such as Keep Oregon Green, Keep Washington Green, American Forest Products Industries Inc., and the Cooperative Forest Fire Prevention campaign made fire a foreign enemy through racialized iconography and associating fire prevention with national defense. Then it demonstrates that the timber and wood products industries were portrayed as the heroes in the fight against fire, normalizing the presence of capitalism in the forests. In the end, the fire-enemy narrative that saw fires as foreign and detrimental to forests was as much concerned with protecting timber capital as it was with extinguishing flames. The article contributes to a larger body of environmental history concerned with the ways in which discourse and narrative undergird policy and action.