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Welcome to the Pyrocene Era

In today's edition of This Week in Climate, we look at how human-influenced fire activity is shaping our world.
Abigail Bassett
Aug 31, 2023 10 min read
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The world is on fire. With thousands of wildfires burning across the globe, many have begun to speculate that we are entering a Pyrocene Era–an era when fires are so large, so hot, and so strong that they impact the earth's climate systems..

Entering an age of fire seems remarkably accurate, especially as clean-up in Hawaii begins after one of the deadliest wildfires in US history killed nearly 100 people and has left almost 400 missing, and as more than 20,000 people flee Yellowknife as a result of the massive wildfires in Canada, which turned the skies in New York City orange earlier this summer.

The rise in frequency of massive wildfires like those that tore apart Spain, Portugal, Romania, and Australia over the last few years has begun to raise alarm bells amongst climate scientists, global leaders, and firefighters. As climate change takes hold, scientists believe that these deadly wildfires will worsen, but the question of whether humankind will be prepared to handle and manage this Pyrocene era safely still remains.

The Science Behind the "Fire Era"

It's not just that the news has picked up on the increase in global fires; there has been a significant uptick in the number of massive wildfires all over the world as a result of global warming and climate change.

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released a report that showed that greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting warming have “led to an increased frequency and/or intensity of some weather and climate extremes," resulting in wildfires.

In addition to this, a 2021 study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences argued that climate change was the main contributor to fire weather in the Western U.S. Most recently, World Weather Attribution, a collection of climate scientists who quantify how climate change influences the intensity and likelihood of an extreme weather event, showed that the fires in Canada alone were more than twice as likely to occur as a direct result of climate change.

Smoke and fire sciences are still in their early days, and both the public and government’s understanding of wildfire management needs to improve along with them. While the West Coast of the US has long dealt with fires, everything from building practices and how we manage resources like water, to our collective "risk blindness", have contributed to the onset of the Pyrocene.

What Exactly is the Pyrocene Era?

The Pyrocene era is a term that has been proposed to describe a new geological epoch characterized by the global influence of human-caused fire activity on the globe. It’s been bandied about by everyone from the Washington Post and The Atlantic, and it was coined by the emeritus professor and wildfire expert Stephen J. Pyne.

At the heart of it is the idea that human influence, particularly through the use of fire, has become a dominant force shaping the planet, similar to how post-glacial climatic and environmental changes defined the Holocene epoch.

The concept of the Pyrocene highlights the increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires around the world, driven by a combination of climate change, land-use changes, and direct human ignition. It underscores the idea that humans have become a geological force in their own right, with fire as one of the primary tools shaping the planet's ecosystems and atmosphere.

Can We Escape the Pyrocene?

As NASA points out, some wildfires are natural, though many of the enormous conflagrations are started by humans. Most climate scientists believe that reducing greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and finding ways to slow the heating of the planet are long-term solutions to reducing the number of damaging wildfires around the world.

There are ways to responsibly manage everything from the tinder of dry grasslands and the underbrush of dense forests, as well as improve water and building practices to slow down the advent of the Pyrocene. There are also plenty of climate tech companies working to reduce the frequency and damage of wildfires and advance our own understanding of the intersection of climate, fire, and human elements.

Six Companies Working to Fight Wildfire

While the stats seem dire, there’s always something more to do, especially in climate tech. Here are six companies working to combat wildfire by leveraging everything from Machine Learning and AI to advanced imaging and fire-fighting tech.


Gridware is a Bay Area-based company focused on providing real-time monitoring of the American power grid to detect and predict failures that can cause wildfires. The company has the backing of several VCs, including True Ventures, Fifty Years, and Y-Combinator (with the support of the California Energy Commission).


Overstory is a Netherlands-based, early-stage startup that is focused on real-time tracking of the planet’s vegetation. The company is currently using machine learning to analyze satellite imagery to track forests and vegetation, with the aim of helping to reduce the risk of wildfires and power outages. They currently have a number of remote-based job openings.


Pano is a San Francisco-area-based company that provides a connected, intelligent platform for fire professionals to help detect threats, confirm fires, and disseminate information to first responders as quickly as possible. The company integrates ultra-high-definition cameras, geo satellite data, field sensors, legacy cameras, emergency alerts, and other data feeds to give firefighters a clearer picture of the size, location, and accessibility of a fire.

EarthForce Technologies

EarthForce is an early-stage company that is working to create management software to enable scalable solutions for vegetation and forest management. The company says it's taking a ground-up approach to deal with the increased risk and damage of wildfire and identify areas in forest management that are prime for innovation.


Flash Forest is a Canada-based reforestation company that uses aerial mapping software, drone technology, pneumatics, automation, and ecological science to quickly reforest post-harvest and post-wildfire areas.

Mast Reforestation

Mast Reforestation is another reforestation company that’s working to make recovery after a wildfire more scalable. The company has developed a “Fire Plug” seedling, which is hardier and can grow better in a post-fire landscape where the soil is frequently devoid of nutrients and the soil is less stable.

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The Author

Abigail Bassett