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A roundup of the California wildfires series

August 6, 2008 |  8:00 am

Butler 2 fire

In case you missed it (and online, unfortunately, it wasn't hard to miss), Los Angeles Times staff writers Bettina Boxall and Julie Cart finished off their "Big Burn" investigative series this past week on the growing "big business" of fighting fires.

Part One: Big Fires, Big Business
"A century after the government declared war on wildfire, fire is gaining the upper hand. Wildland blazes are growing bigger, fiercer and harder to put out. Firefighting costs are rising, too, and much of the money is going to private contractors."

Part Two: Political Meddling and Costly "Air Shows"
"Fire commanders are often pressured to order firefighting planes and helicopters into action even when they won't do any good. The reason: Aerial drops of water and retardant make good television. They're a visible way for political leaders to show they're acting decisively to quell a fire. Firefighters call them "CNN drops."

Part Three: Living in Fire's Embrace
"More and more Americans are moving into fire-prone canyons and woodlands. The settings are picturesque but road networks are often inadequate. In a wildfire, everyone may not be able to get out safely."

Part Four: Lost Landscapes
"From Frederic Remington paintings to Gene Autry songs and John Wayne movies, the cultural imagery of the West is steeped in sagebrush. Now, a devastating cycle of fire, fueled by non-native plants, is wiping sagebrush from vast stretches of the Great Basin."

Part Five: Stay and Fight
"Wildfire is a pervasive danger in Australia, just as in much of the Western U.S. But Australians cope with the threat very differently than Americans do. Rather than rely on professional firefighters to protect their lives and property, many Australians do it themselves."

The pair worked on the series for more than a year, traveling across the country and to far-flung locations like Australia. The series included fiery photos, graphics, video and multiple sidebars -- way too many to post here. But you can link to those on The Times' environment page. Or joint he conversation with hundreds of other readers on the graffiti board.

--Tami Abdollah

Photo: U.S. Forest Service firefighters spray water along a ride line to control a backfire on the Butler 2 fire near Big Bear Lake in September. Credit: Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times