Best Fire Man (2012)

Dr. Stephen Pyne

This year, the Gladiator, Bull Flat, Elwood, and Sunflower fires burned more than 3,000 acres throughout Arizona, and no one was watching more closely than Dr. Stephen Pyne. Pyne's spent 15 years as a wildland firefighter and now is an expert on the history and management of fire, which he teaches at Arizona State University. He also recognizes the irony in his name and what he loves to do — chase, study, and write about fires. Pyne grew up in Phoenix. He went to Brophy Prep and left right after graduation to join the forest fire crew at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon; he says he returned for 15 seasons between studying at Stanford University and the University of Texas at Austin and completing MacArthur, Fulbright, and two National Endowment for the Humanities fellowships.

And after all the awards and interviews, book releases, and recognition, he still answers phone calls and e-mails from around the world to explain wildfire phenomena. This year, over one recent weekend, he shared the reasoning behind names of certain fires, which typically are determined by either the Forest Service, whose employees only name fires after nearby geographic places, or the National Park Service (where Pyne worked), whose employees name them after natural landmarks, popular culture, and particularly memorable girlfriends.


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