ABSTRACT

The use of fire as a tool to manipulate the environment has been instrumental in the human conquest of earth, the first evidence of the use of fires by early hominids dating back to 1 million to 1.5 million years ago (1). Even today, most human-ignited vegetation fires take place on the African continent, and its widespread, frequently burned savannas bear ample witness to this. Although natural fires can occur even in tropical forest regions (2, 3), the extent of fires has greatly expanded on all continents with the arrival of Homo sapiens. Measurements of charcoal in dated sediment cores have shown clear correlations between the rate of burning and human settlement (4). Pollen records show a shift with human settlement from pyrophobic vegetation to pyrotolerant and pyrophilic species, testimony to the large ecological impact of human-induced fires.