This article is a reflection on doing wildfire research aimed at shaping public policy in Orange County, California, during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its focus is on the little-known efforts of fire mitigation by Latinx migrant workers. In this article, I discuss how the COVID-19 pandemic made me shift research focus from seeking to understand how workers’ ecological knowledge might shape fire mitigation policy to a prioritization of workers’ precarious “essential labor” on the “front” front lines of fire prevention. I discuss how the temporalities of the pandemic, wildfire, and research played out across the labor terrain of the Southern California wildfire mitigation efforts and within my own applied research. Specifically, I discuss how COVID-19 university research “ramped down,” and stay-at-home orders prevented me from being embedded with workers in the county’s canyons, as I had planned, and how I had to learn to adjust my funded research. The outcome required doing applied research by letting go of continuity, by dwelling in disjointed COVID-19 temporalities that settled over the county’s flammable chaparral where essential labor serves as an extension of a failing settler colonial fire management practice that requires worker vulnerability to inoculate the lives of those living in the county’s wildfire risk regions.

You do not currently have access to this content.