Archaeology Magazine Archive

A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America

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Conversations: Fighting Fire in the Trenches Volume 57 Number 2, March/April 2004

An archaeologist battles seasonal blazes in an effort to save endangered sites.

(Lori Sisquoic)

For Daniel McCarthy, trying to keep sites safe during fire season is a major part of his job description. As U.S. Forest Service archaeologist for southern California's San Bernardino National Forest, he's seen many fires, but those that engulfed more than 90,000 acres last fall were easily the worst. McCarthy talked to ARCHAEOLOGY about the challenges--and surprising opportunities--fires bring.

What kind of impact do fires have on archaeological sites, and how do you minimize the threats?
The real problems relate to suppression activities. Firebreaks cut by bulldozers can be up to one hundred feet wide. They do the most damage to sites. When there are fires, I work with logistics folks to try to decide where to send the suppression teams and how to avoid archaeological resources. If we're in an area where the sites have been inventoried, then I can direct the 'dozers to areas that will cause less damage. If we don't have the area inventoried, and if we have time, I assess the area before the 'dozers get there. In some cases, I walk ahead of them and identify sites that they should avoid.

* See our March/April 2003 issue for more of this interview or purchase below.
© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America