Fire Protocols: Attention as Autopoietic Space

The word Ether has been derived from the Latin word ‘aether’ which means ‘to ignite’. At room temperature and under a high-pressure, ethers are usually flammable.

Team member names
jiordi rosales
Nathalia Scherer

As long term collaborators we have we worked with each other on initiatives such as We Will Dance With Mountains, the bellweather residency, and prescribed burns in California through the School For Inclement Weather (SFIW).

Short summary of your improvement idea

“When you collect marine animals there are certain flat worms so delicate that they are almost impossible to capture whole, for they break and tatter under the touch. You must let them ooze and crawl of their own will onto a knife blade and then lift them gently into your bottle of sea water. And perhaps that might be the way to write this book — to open the page and let the stories crawl in by themselves.” - John Steinbeck

We believe it is not enough for our technologies to offer better solutions for the world. brontë velez, a core contributor to this work and co-curator of the SFIW, points out that “many of us might currently refuse protocols for they feel attached to traditions of violence and surveillance. I believe protocols don’t need to be fundamentalist, punitive, or prescriptive.” Instead, we invite a praxis of protocol that allows us to court living systems with intention — recovering protocol as an ancestral lifeway that changes the ways in which we invest our attention.

Fire-climates

Over a century of fire suppression has changed California from a fire-ecology to a fire-climate; meaning its continued suppression and the fear it generates makes up the atmosphere we live in, the air and smoke we breathe. The indigenous practice of low-intensity, seasonal burning has in the last five years become repopularized under the jurisdiction of Federal, State, and Local governments. These are inevitably the same institutions who once criminalized and achieved various levels of erasure of the cultural knowledge systems they now rely upon.

In order to curb the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires in the state, fire professionals agree upon the need to apply fire to 2 Million acres per year (a number that Florida is currently achieving). However, between Calfire (state) and USFS (federal) — fewer than 100,000 acres were burned through prescribed fire in the entire state in 2023. The issue does not stem from any lack of interest, energy, or necessity — but we believe is rooted in the social and governmental complexity and discord of all actors knowing how to work together in efficient and meaningful ways that allow for difference and delegation.

The Prescribed-Fire-Environment is made up of federally recognized and unrecognized tribes, fire agencies, pollution-controllers, meteorologists, non-profits, private companies, universities, associations, volunteers, ranchers, land-owners, and everyone else who will be impacted by smoke and/or wildfire threat — entire populations enmeshed in processes of collaboration with very little precedence for established protocol or even shared language.

This ecosystem presents a vital case study, urgent for both institutional analysis and addressing the immediate climate crisis through protocol involvement. We believe that the unpredictability of a plurality of agents and its mutabilities, highlight the complex dynamics at play between various stakeholders and the evolving environmental challenges they face.

Burn protocols

We acknowledge that no single protocol can seek to encompass the cultural complexity of prescribed burning. Bayo Akomolafe brings up a term that feels accurate for how we perceive this challenge: a “looking-away-at” referring to how his son, who is autistic, “turns away to get a ‘better’ look, as if resisting the visual specificity of central focus. As if the sides offer an exquisite glimpse of a shifting field too dynamic for steady viewing. To dynamic to leave us all, the objects of his vision, discrete and intact”.

Moving sideways like fire, this is an invitation toward rerouting and deepening our attention to the nuances of a fire ecosystem. We aim to begin with a systemic analysis of the field and the overall prescribed fire management protocol. Our goal is to propose enhancements and provide recommendations on how the public and varied stakeholders can conduct themselves in the social environment of fire with more clarity and better effect.

We seek to draw a base-map of the complex web of relations that make up the prescribed fire environment in Northern California, with a primary focus on Sonoma County — a leading region on the West Coast for the re-emergence of burn practices, and one that is dense with differing and often conflicting timescales and interests of its inhabitants.

Furthermore, we would like to share a comparative analysis with the fire ecosystems in Brazil, where the Indigenous people living alongside the Brazilian portion of the Amazon have managed their fire-prone landscapes for millennia using controlled burns. Now, more than 700 Indigenous firefighters work for Brazil’s National Center for Wildfire Prevention and Suppression (Prevfogo), and many states are planning a calendar of controlled burnings as well as tightened security measures given that the area of forest and wildland fires grew by almost 80 per cent in 2022 compared with 2021.

“One of our biggest challenges is to adapt the traditional use of fire to climate change,” said Luiz Pacheco Motta, an environmental analyst working with Prevfogo.

Autopoiesis

At the core of our work, we believe that the praxis of collectives that navigate the core question of how to be responsive to the weather can inform how we might be responsive to the different levels of complexity/chaos/crisis faced by technological, ecological, and cultural narratives.

With this research and our long term inquiries we hope to express the volatile essence of protocols, embodying a state where physical properties and ancient meanings intertwine. Like seeds that lay dormant in a forest until fire sweeps through and activates them, we want protocols that crack open and allow for autopoietic growth.

[Image from The Institute of Queer Ecologies; serotiny]

1. What is the existing target protocol you are hoping to improve or enhance? Eg: hand-washing, traffic system, connector standards, carbon trading.
Prescribed Fire Management

2. What is the core idea or insight about potential improvement you want to pursue?
Gaining a more nuanced and clearer understanding of the Prescribed Fire Environment will empower stakeholders to engage more effectively and frequently.

Ideas for potential improvements:

  • how to facilitate the approval of prescribed burning made by tribal members in tribal lands (now it’s challenging for tribes to burn in their land due to specific details involved in the federal management of protocols)
  • how to make different incentive systems visible and facilitate informed decisions (possible use case: what happened recently with the vineyards in Sonoma County; how decisions are made; what/how gets measured; the impact different incentives can make)
  • process of approval of burns: different for different stakeholders → how to make it more coherent so more diverse stakeholders can better participate and help achieve the need to burn 2 Million acres per year
  • how to facilitate and improve informed decision-making regarding when/where/how/who gets to burn
  • how to adapt the protocol in the face of emergent conditions

3. What is your discovery methodology for investigating the current state of the target protocol? Eg: field observation, expert interviews, historical data analysis, failure event analysis

  • Conduct stakeholder interviews & surveys with the broad ecosystem to understand current needs and challenges.
  • Observation of prescribed fires and events.
  • Analysis of fire professionals’ experience implementing programming.
  • Analysis of historical context (starting with the Sonoma County region and expanding if within scope).
  • A comparative analysis between the current state of fire protocols in Brazil and the US
  • Participatory co-design: share our ongoing work with Sonoma County’s stakeholders and include them in the design process.
  • Anthropology and history of indigenous practice of slow-burning & the federal responses and suppression

4. In what form will you prototype your improvement idea? Eg: Code, reference design implementation, draft proposal shared with experts for feedback, A/B test of ideas with a test audience, prototype hardware, etc.

  • We will prototype it with advisors and utilize a test pool of beneficiaries.
  • Workshop alternative models and improvements with local stakeholders in California.
  • jiordi will present the improvement idea to select leaders of the CA Prescribed Burn Association movement at the PBA Leaders’ Retreat in Hopland, CA in early June.

5. How will you field-test your improvement idea? Eg: run a restricted pilot at an event, simulation, workshop, etc.

We will prototype our version of fire management protocol through the organization and implementation of a prescribed burn at the bellweather observatory through the School For Inclement Weather (SFIW) in Sonoma County.

6. Who will be able to judge the quality of your output? Ideally name a few suitable judges.

  1. Kashia Pomo Cultural Department
  2. TERA (Tribal Eco-Restoration Alliance)
  3. Fire Forward
  4. Biswell Forestry
  5. CA Burn Bosses (Certified and Trainee)
  6. Calfire Firefighters
  7. Lenya Quinn-Davis (co-creator of CA-RX)
  8. Guilherme Moura Fagundes (Princeton University, University of Sao Paulo)
  9. Danilo Lessa Bernardineli (BlockScience, University of Sao Paulo)
  10. PrevFogo

7. How will you publish and evangelize your improvement idea? Eg: Submit proposal to a standards body, publish open-source code, produce and release a software development kit etc.

  • Research publishing

    • Network map of key actors and procedures
    • Protocol improvement report
    • Findings report, including our reflections on the nuances of burn protocols
  • Post-research knowledge sharing.

    • Discussion groups
    • Possibly a workshop at EdgeCity Esmeralda, which is happening in the same region as our main research demographic
  • Possible Partnerships

    • Fire and prescribed burn organizations (Kashia Pomo Cultural Department, TERA - Tribal Eco-Restoration Alliance -, Fire Forward, Biswell Forestry, CA Burn Bosses (Certified and Trainee), Calfire Firefighters, Lenya Quinn-Davis)
    • School for Inclement Weather (SFIW)
    • Edgecity Esmeralda
    • Tropiko
    • Danilo Lessa Bernardineli (atmosphere and token physicist; BlockScience, University of Sao Paulo)
    • Our collaborators at TEN (The Emergence Network)
    • Center For Applied Cultural Evolution
    • Bioregional Learning Centers / Bioregional Earth
    • Our collaborators at Sympoiesis Tech

9. What is the success vision for your idea?

Those interested in navigating the Prescribed-Fire-Environment become enabled to do so. Greater engagement and public support for prescribed fire, better relationships between members of the different organizations currently working in the Sonoma county region. Narratives and frameworks that help orient how we navigate weather, complexity, crisis, and beauty. An invitation for the creation of scaffoldings and protocols that enflesh an ethics of care and different qualities of attention into our systems.

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Wowww, this is so real. thank you for bringing up this level of provenance of work into this. excited to think about “how to be responsive to weather” also links to how folks building w web3 can better pay attention to externalities and unknowns of our work

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hola, excited more mountain dancers are here, and also this makes me think of the work of the Centre for Attention Studies Centre for Attention Studies - King's College London

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hey @laurex :slight_smile: fun to see more and more of the emergence networks <> web3 folks connecting! curious to see what can come of the crossroads. And thanks so much for linking the Center for Attention Studies!

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Here’s also a list of pieces in English about the Brazilian fire ecologies:

When faced with wildfire, tribes in the affected region share maps to communicate and take strategic actions. Within the Sisfogo app, they can adjust data capture forms and dashboards as needed. “They can share their thoughts, their feelings, their perceptions of the world using GIS tools and maps,” Freitas said.

In this case, the value of collecting and sharing tribal knowledge extends beyond the immediate needs of firefighters. Government ministries, agencies, and academics benefit from the data and the shared awareness."

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I would like to cross-connect this project & research with South-Eastern Europe communities (specifically Croatia & Greece), where the impact of forest fires has been both ancient & more recently acute…

Please recommend the best way to keep informed & keep in touch. Thanks!

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Hi Becha - we would love to make those connections. I would also recommend following the film project of Ancora Luce - who are weaving similar threads in Southern Italy and I imagine with much overlap to practices in Croatia and Greece. We are hopeful that updates will be available here on the forum, but feel free to write me at jiordi.rosales@gmail.com and we can continue the conversations there!

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Would love to stay in touch and follow yalls work — i think this the kind of content that can branch off and instigate more work in different directions like either continuing on how to be responsive to other elements as well (water, earth, air); and/or diving more into implications of multi-cultural decision making and social sciences deeper dives; as well as doing an analysis of what burning mean in the web3 ecosystem & how folks (and even token designs?) can better navigate “weather changes”.

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also thinking of an artistic piece i saw years ago in about burning money in a web3 exposition but i’m having a hard time finding a link or their name

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I remember a similar piece too, I think I saw it near one of the first eth berlin hackathons – it was from a collective of researchers/artists but also can’t remember their name. would love to find their work again if anyone here is familiar with it

and thank you for these notes, it definitely resonates with the lines of inquiry we’ve been exploring as well. there were a few other people who have reached out, and I’d be happy to host a small group to look at some of those questions together.

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Are you familiar with the work of Bill Drummond? " K Foundation Burn a Million Quid [n 1] was a work of performance art executed and filmed on 23 August 1994 in which the K Foundation, an art duo consisting of Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, burned £1 million (equivalent to £2.1 million in 2021) in the back of a disused boathouse on the Ardfin Estate on the Scottish island of Jura. The money represented the bulk of the K Foundation’s funds that had been previously earned by Drummond and Cauty as the KLF."

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I was not familiar with them! Just did a quick read about their “workshop for non-linear architecture”, the “welcome to the dark age” festival after the 23-year-long silence…thank you for bringing this to my awareness! It reminds me of some lines of thought present in Rem Koolhaas’ Delirious New York, but I’d need to give it a more in-depth read before making a connection.