As a double major in History and Visual Studies, Brennan Krebs ’23 sees the big picture when it comes to California’s recent wildfires, and Dr. Jordan Leiser’s history class provided the ideal opportunity for Brennan to research an issue that has had a profound impact on his family.
In November, as a class assignment, Brennan was inspired to write a letter-to-the-editor to the Ventura County Star expressing his opinion about a story that an arsonist was arrested in 2019 at the site of the Woolsey fire. That wildfire in 2018 led to evacuations in Brennan’s neighborhood in Simi Valley.
The Woolsey Fire wound up burning 96,949 acres of land, destroying 1,643 structures, killing three people, and prompted the evacuation of more than 295,000 residents. The fact that someone would intentionally start a fire baffled Brennan and motivated him to do his own research on wildfires. It took him back to 1932 when the Matilija Fire in Los Padres National Forest destroyed 220,000 acres, which that year amounted to half the total acreage of forests nationwide burned by fire.
Brennan also learned during that time that it was common for airplanes to be deployed after lightning storms or during foggy weather as means of scouting for fire breakouts. That year of the 88 hours of such planes patrolling wildfires in the country, 79 were recorded related to the Matilija Fire.
In his letter-to-the-editor, Brennan concluded based on his research dating back 87 years that wildfires are inevitable. “This precedent leads me to believe that California has been a haven for wildfires for many years prior and will continue to be a breeding ground of devastation,” he wrote.
Such research projects in public history are inspiring and important in Dr. Lieser’s history courses. Unfortunately, Brennan’s extensive research through the California Newspaper Digital Library was edited out of his letter-to the-editor – written in the midst of the Kincade Fire in Sonoma County some 50 miles north of the Dominican campus – but Brennan was moved by his history class assignment and the opportunities to study matters that can make a difference in the community.
“First of all, I just love history. I love it with a burning passion, kind of like my dad loves fighting fires,” Brennan says. “The history program at Dominican was perfect for me.”
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The son of a longtime firefighter and fire engine driver for the Los Angeles City Fire Department, Brennan came to Dominican to play lacrosse. He was drawn to history and art history and motivated and supported by Dr. Lieser and Dr. Leslie Ross, chair of the art history department in the School of Liberal Arts and Education, to major in both. Brennan now aspires to get his teaching credential at Dominican and become a history teacher.
“My experience at Dominican has been even better than I expected,” Brennan says. “I like how the classes are small and it’s easy to access your professors and talk to them. They know what they are talking about.”
Research opportunities excite and fascinate Brennan. At Dominican, that can lead him into many directions as he has a variety of classes to choose from.
“One of the things that was cool when I enrolled is Dominican has a pirates class and I’m taking that next semester,” Brennan says of his next research project in “Pirates and Pillagers.”
“I wasn’t anticipating doing research on that Matilija Fire. It just kind of happened, but it was so satisfying because I wanted to learn something new – and it got published in the newspaper.”