Archeologist Works to Save Sites from California Wildfires

Meet Fran McCormick. He’s a fire archeologist who works to preserve specific sites from wildfires in California.

“You can’t do archeology without getting sweaty and dirty and beat up,” he shares. “I love the fact that it takes work.”

Video Transcript

Fran McCormick: I was born in February on the Canadian border in New York in the dark and in the snow. It is now August in the Mojave Desert. It’s very far from where I’m from, but so are most places that I’m going to end up going, eventually.

Fran is a fire archeologist in Joshua Tree National Park.

Fran: Studying anthropology made sense to me, with the motivation of trying to understand and eventually try to resolve conflicts in the world. And then I found that archeology had this wonderful satisfaction with both the physical and the intellectual. You can’t do archeology without getting sweaty, and dirty, and beat up. I love the fact that it takes work.

As a fire archeologist, Fran works to protect sites from wildfires. The work takes him to the front lines of fire danger.

Fran: And then eventually I also found fire archeology. Last season I first did some work on wildfires in northern California, where my job was essentially identifying and figuring out how to best prevent damage to archeological sites that otherwise would have just been plowed through, or burned, or damaged. And that kind of vital use of archeology I found to be really satisfying.

Being on the fire where four people died, and one of them being a Hotshot captain in Sequoia Kings Canyon National Parks, I was taken by the unpredictability of nature in life. That could have happened to any of us. It sounds cliché, but truly, you have to learn how to appreciate how fragile and temporary it is.

Fran, laughing, to a dog: Hi Clyde. Hey.

Living in the desert, Fran has taken to trail marathons.

Fran: You have to constantly be thinking about the rocks, the roots, the water, all of the slips, and like all of the possible ways you could crash and burn at any second. I think that completely reflects all the same reasons why I like archeology. It’s that intense physical exertion, but also the mental engagement that it requires at the same time. And I love that.

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