Around 70,000 wildfires occur every year in the US alone, burning an average of seven million acres. Globally, satellites detect roughly 10,000 wildfires every day during the summer. And thanks to the climate crisis, it’s getting worse. How can we adapt to deal with the inevitability of fire?

We’ve all seen the images—massive, billowing smoke plumes against blue skies, fire lapping up hillsides like a flood tide, homes reduced to their concrete foundations amidst blackened trees and ash. Fire season after fire season, from Australia to Brazil to the US, images of wildfires paint a clear, nearly inarguable portrait for millions across the world: Fire is a catastrophe, and fire is an enemy. 

At the same time, those who live in fire-adapted landscapes are starting to understand the ecological importance of fire, and how restoring fire in these landscapes may be our clearest path to a less destructive future.

Therein lies the pickle: Modern wildfires force us to hold these two realities—fire’s importance and occasional propensity for catastrophe—all at once. But if we’re to move into a future of coexisting with wildfire, we need to not only acknowledge these two competing realities but to act courageously and consistently despite them.