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‘Pyro Futures’ imagines a California without catastrophic wildfires

UC Davis professor of landscape architecture Brett Milligan is one of the creators of the “Pyro Futures” exhibit. Photo taken on Jan. 23, 2024.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
UC Davis professor of landscape architecture Brett Milligan is one of the creators of the “Pyro Futures” exhibit. Photo taken on Jan. 23, 2024.

Pyro Futures” argues the future isn’t pre-determined when it comes to wildfires.

Fire scientists have warned there is no future in which Californians don’t live with frequent wildfire.

The art exhibit, which is on display at the Jan Shrem and Maria Manetti Shrem Museum of Art at UC Davis, asks visitors to imagine three different versions of a fiery future. In one, wildfires continue to be catastrophic. In two others, the public has been proactive.

“We have choice, we can design those futures to some degree,” said Brett Milligan, professor of landscape architecture at UC Davis and co-creator of the exhibition.

Milligan and his colleague, Emily Schlickman, put together the display after publishing their book, “Design By Fire: Resistance, Co-Creation and Retreat in the Pyrocene.”

At the exhibit, glass cases show depictions of potential futures. There’s a future where people have done little, and the result is disastrous. And there are others showing political and individual actions being taken today that could lead to one of the more favorable futures. That part of the exhibit includes artwork, photos and materials from recent prescribed and cultural burns.

Milligan hopes the showing moves visitors to create a future compatible with fire. He said the fundamental message he and Schlickman are trying to get across is: people will decide how future wildfires burn.

UC Davis professor of landscape architecture Brett Milligan is one of the creators of the “Pyro Futures” exhibit. Photo taken on Jan. 23, 2024.
Jamie Jiang
/
NSPR
UC Davis professor of landscape architecture Brett Milligan is one of the creators of the “Pyro Futures” exhibit. Photo taken on Jan. 23, 2024.

“Whether we do something or not, we have a huge influence over how these fires happen,” Milligan said.

That can range from mitigating climate change impacts to setting intentional fires to designing fire safe communities, he said.

“My personal aspiration is that we invest in working with fire and that we take it seriously and think about how we want that relationship to be in a deliberate way,” Milligan said.

In their book, Milligan and Schlickman use nearly 30 case studies of communities around the world that have somehow adapted to wildfire, including the Town of Paradise.

Milligan emphasized the diversity of ways people everywhere can manage fire, from using grazing animals to creating protective landscapes like parks as fire buffers.

Jamie is NSPR’s wildfire reporter and Report For America corps member. She covers all things fire, but her main focus is wildfire recovery in the North State. Before NSPR, Jamie was at UCLA, where she dabbled in college radio and briefly worked as podcast editor at the Daily Bruin.