The Labor of Fire: Wildlands Firefighting and Incarceration in California

Part of the California Spotlight Event Series


Wildfires have grown dramatically over the last five years, both as a result of a century of fire suppression as well as contemporary climate change, which makes fires hotter and more destructive. The changing wildfire season not only affects those living near wildfires, but also those charged with fighting fires and managing lands on fire.

Please join us on Wednesday, November 10th from 1-2pm Pacific for a panel discussion, as we’ll consider how changing wildfires have changed not only how fires are fought, but who fights them.

The panel will include Brandon Smith, Co-founder and Chief Director of the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP); Jameson Karns, a former firefighter from Southern California who is currently a PhD Candidate in History at UC Berkeley; and Lindsey Raisa Feldman, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Memphis, whose research and advocacy sits at the intersection of identity, labor, and incarceration, and who has conducted ethnographic research with incarcerated wildland firefighters. Moderated by John Radke, a faculty member in the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley.

Register to attend


Brandon SmithBrandon Smith is the Co-Founder & Chief Director of the Forestry and Fire Recruitment Program (FFRP). As an advocate for those impacted by the criminal justice system and environmental injustices alike, Brandon spent nine years as a Wildland Firefighter and Forestry Technician with the US Forest Service before becoming the Director of FFRP. As a former fire camp resident, Brandon brings his lived experience to the organization and has spent the last 15 years working with community based organizations. He is the recipient of numerous leadership fellowships such as; New Profit’s Unlocked Futures, JustLeadershipUSA’s 2020 cohort Leading with Conviction, REDF’s Accelerator program, and most recently, a 2021 Echoing Green Fellowship! Brandon attended UC Berkeley studying African American and Liberal Studies; and is a graduate of Victor Valley Valley Colleges Wildland Academy.


Jameson Karns is a former firefighter from Southern California and a PhD Candidate in the UC Berkeley History of Science Program. His current scholarship examines the historical movements in wildfire management and how they have manifested in land management institutions. More broadly, his work explores modern North American land management agencies and the role they have on environmental sciences and the environment. He is interested in the development of these sciences in a transatlantic context and their implementation on the land. His scholarship covers the social, cultural, and political impact of land stewardship.


Dr. Lindsey Raisa Feldman is an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Memphis. Her research and advocacy sits at the intersection of identity, labor, and incarceration. In the past she has conducted ethnographic research with incarcerated wildland firefighters, examining the lived experience of this complex work. Her current project is a visual ethnography titled “In pursuit of the ‘Good Man’: An ethnographic examination of complex masculinities after release from prison.” This project combines photo elicitation and participatory photovoice methodologies to explore the effects of racial capitalism and normative masculinity during prison reentry.


John RadkeJohn Radke (moderator) is an Associate Professor in the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley. A founding member of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management, he conducts research in the design and development of analytical methods that assist in recognizing spatial structure, measure changes in complex landscapes, and assess exposure from future climate change conditions. He advances and integrates high-resolution spatial data within data-rich multivariate models to predict the impact on and consequences of chronic exposure of infrastructure in human habitat over vast geographic regions. He has also worked as a firefighter.