The American West is on fire.  ICW turns its attention to the calamity of western wildfire with a three-year research, teaching, and outreach project.  Thanks to generous funding from USC Dornsife, the Institute has recently launched “The West on Fire” initiative.  Our goal is to place western wildfire in historical context, to learn from dozens of disciplinary and other sets of fire knowledge, and to broaden public awareness of the region’s relationship with fire in the past, present, and future.

The project proceeds with a set of work-in-progress goals.  Our working group draws from a diverse collection of fire experts across multiple disciplines.  Ecologists, Indigenous fire practitioners, US Forest Service personnel, earth scientists, economists, political scientists, journalists, archivists, curators (and others) have come together to share expertise and help us work on a set of inked objectives.  These include a just-launched search for a one-year postdoctoral research fellow working on any disciplinary aspect of western American fire; a call for new course syllabi on western fire at USC (freshmen, undergraduate, and doctoral courses); three regional case studies of western fire across epochal timescales; focused work and training with Indigenous fire and prescribed burn experts; collected data and research findings pertaining to the deleterious public health threats of wildfire smoke; an oral history initiative drawing diverse “fire voices” from western settings; a broad public conference (“The West on Fire”); and a collected essay volume of original fire research.

Throughout the project’s duration, our aim is to broaden the discussion of western fire, deepen the public’s contextual knowledge of fire history, and work towards new ways of thinking about fire in the region and in our neighborhoods.  We will add to this website as we move forward, so please continue to check this space

The moment has never been more timely nor urgent.


Haslett Basin Controlled Burn

In January 2024, the Sierra-Sequoia Burn Cooperative (SSBC) conducted a prescribed burn at Haslett Basin. The cooperative is a collaborative partnership of four California Native American Tribes (Big Sandy Rancheria, Cold Springs Rancheria, the Dunlap Band of Mono Indians, and North Fork Rancheria), the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, and other regional organizations and landowners, as well as ICW’s West on Fire colleague Jared Aldern. SSBC experts are revitalizing fire culture in the Sierra Nevada by drawing from state and federal training standards and Indigenous history and expertise. This is one of three burn sites where the work is being supported by a grant to ICW from the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, a California state agency. You can learn more on ICW’s blog:


Wildfires in Canada: An International Conversation about Managing Forests and Fire

Dr. Chelene Hanes of the Canadian Forest Service and Dr. Jared Aldern, Lead Researcher of ICW’s The West on Fire, will discuss how Canada manages its wildfires, Dr. Hanes’ work on the Canadian Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS), and the importance of international conversations on wildfire. Presented by ICW and the Forest History Society.


Part 2: Managing Wildfires in Los Angeles County

Moderated by historian Wade Graham, Chief Drew Smith and Chief Ron Durbin of the Los Angeles County Fire Department continue their discussion on the challenges of wildland fires in the Los Angeles area from both a management and ecological perspective.


Part 1: Managing Wildfires in Los Angeles County

Moderated by historian Wade Graham, Chief Drew Smith and Chief Ron Durbin of the Los Angeles County Fire Department discuss the challenges of wildland fires in the Los Angeles area from both a management and ecological perspective.


Shell-Shocked and Irradiated: Managing Ukraine’s Forests in Time of War


A conversation with the Head of the Regional Eastern Europe Monitoring Center (REEFMC), Professor Sergiy Zibtsev about the historical and current challenges of Ukrainian forest fire management. The event will be moderated by Jameson Karns, ICW’s “West on Fire” Assistant Research Director. Further contemporary and historical perspective will be offered by Robert English, Professor of International Relations at USC Dornsife.

This programming is brought to you in partnership with the Forest History Society.


Stephen J. Pyne on The Pyrocene: How We Created an Age of Fire, and What Happens Next


Pyne and ICW Director William Deverell discuss Pyne’s most recent book, The Pyrocene: How We Created an Age of Fire, and What Happens Next.

Stephen J. Pyne presents a riveting perspective of how humans and fire have evolved together over time, and our responsibility to reorient this relationship before it’s too late. The discussion will draw on the historical relationship between humans and fire, its impact on our geological planet, and his view on the new geologic epoch.

This programming is brought to you in partnership with The Huntington and USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies.


California’s Formerly-Incarcerated Firefighters: A Conversation with Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Reyes and Community Stakeholders


During the fire season of 2020 the prospects, hopes, and futures of California’s nearly 4,000 formerly-incarcerated firefighters were lifted with the passage of Assembly Bill 2147. Created during the Second World War, the California Conservation Camp Program has been a critical fixture of the state’s fire management apparatus. Despite their training and experience as part of California’s emergency management system, these firefighters have traditionally faced challenging career prospects with fire management agencies.

Assembly Bill 2147, authored by Assembly Majority Leader Eloise Reyes, allows California’s nearly 4,000 formerly-incarcerated firefighters to achieve a career the fire-fighting profession. Majority Leader Reyes joined Esteban Núñez, Director of Advocacy and Community Organizing, Anti-Recidivism Coalition and Edward Lopez, a firefighter at the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection to discuss this important legislation and their work with Bill Deverell.



As temperatures rise, wildfires intensify. Join Dr. Bill Deverell for a timely discussion about these increasingly hazardous blazes. Professor Deverell will address the West on Fire project, which he recently launched with several dozen colleagues—designed as a multi-year, interdisciplinary investigation of the past, present, and future of wildfire in the American West.



Wildfires are scorching the western United States with increasing severity. Understanding the history of fire in the West, including Indigenous fire practices and fire’s many environmental legacies, is crucial to determining a more sustainable path forward.

Watch this conversation among experts on the issue, facilitated by historian Bill Deverell, director of the Huntington-USC Institute on California and the West and head of the institute’s The West on Fire project.

  • Joshua West is Associate Professor of Earth Sciences and Zinsmeyer Early Career Chair in Marine Studies in the Department of Earth Sciences at USC. His academic focus is on the chemical processes at the Earth’s surface, and how they maintain a habitable planet that supports life. He holds a BS from Yale and a MPhil and PhD from Cambridge.

  • Jared Dahl Aldern, Ph.D. is a historical ecologist based in central California. His research has focused on how Native American narratives express land tenure, fire history, and ecological relationships. He has taught Native American history at Palomar College, San Diego State University, and Stanford University, served on the graduate faculty at Prescott College, and taught multiple subjects in K-12 public schools. He has also worked in several capacities —including as an educator, environmental protection manager, grant writer and tribal administrator — for American Indian tribes and tribal consortia in California. He serves on the Southern Sierra Prescribed Fire Council’s steering committee and the Dinkey Landscape Restoration Project’s fire and tribal restoration work groups.

  • Theresa Gregor is a descendant of the Iipay Nation of Santa Ysabel (Kumeyaay) as well as Yoeme (Yaqui). She is assistant professor of American Indian Studies at CSU Long Beach and earned her Ph.D. and M.A. in English at the University of Southern California. Before her tenure-track position at CSULB, she was an Adjunct Professor in the Department of American Indian Studies at CSU San Marcos and worked as the Lead Researcher for the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center. She also taught previously in the Departments of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of San Diego. Her tribal community work includes serving as the Executive Director of the Inter-Tribal Long Term Recovery Foundation, a nonprofit organization with a mission to strengthen and enhance the coordination of disaster preparedness and recovery efforts on tribal lands in Southern California. She currently serves on the Native Advisory Council at CSU San Marcos (present-2010). Recent publications include “Revising Critically Endangered Native Languages in California: Case Studies and Promising Practices” with Stan Rodriguez in On Indian Ground: California (2016) and the State of American Indian and Alaska Native Education in California Report (2016) with Dr. Joely Proudfit.