For at least 5,000 years before Europeans arrived in North America, Native Americans periodically set vast swaths of New England on fire. Settlers brought the practice to a halt by the mid-18th century. But today conservationists are again burning the forest to restore the ecosystem and dampen the fire risk to some towns.
Tim Simmons is a restoration ecologist with the Massachusetts Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program in Westborough. Speaking of the early Native Americans, Simmons said fire “was sort of a Leatherman [or multi-tool] of their time. They used it for everything.”