When humans made fire, they made themselves and their planet too

Forest-fire-62971Stephen J Pyne at Aeon Magazine:

We hold fire as a species monopoly. We will not share it willingly with any other species. Other creatures knock over trees, dig holes in the ground, hunt – we do fire. It’s our ecological signature. Our capture of fire is our first experiment with domestication, and it might may well be our first Faustian bargain.

Still, ignition came with limits. Not every spark will spread; not every fire will behave as we wish. We could repurpose fire to our own ends, but we could not conjure fire where nature would not allow it. Our firepower was limited by the receptivity of the land, an appreciation lodged in many fire-origin myths in which fire, once liberated, escapes into plants and stones and has to be coaxed out with effort.

Those limits began to fall away as people reworked the land to alter its combustibility. We could slash woods, drain peat, loose livestock – in a score of ways we could reconfigure the existing biota to increase its flammability.

more here.