« Reveal

America's Ring of Fire (Rebroadcast)

2020-09-12 | 🔗

Wildfires are getting bigger, more expensive to fight and closer than ever to where people live. The consequences can be deadly. We examine how wildfires got so dangerous – and how some are fighting back.

Parts of this episode originally were broadcast Oct. 8, 2016. 

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
From the centre for investigative reporting and p eggs, this is reveal a letter for the last four makes millions of acres across the United States have been burning, dozens of large wildfires raging across the west, Some of the biggest are right here where I live There was even something I never heard of a fire NATO fires. Burning out of control all over California, automated biggest fires, instinctly, nearly eleven thousand lightning streets were reported and heavy wings spread flinch across the state fast moving flames raging out of control, turning more than fifteen hundred square miles into an apocalyptic hell, scape, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, like we're living in a ring of fire even indoors. You can often smell smoke from near by fires in those fires and up can little
depend on which way the wind blows I'm in an area where the fires are burning on three sides to the north, to the east and to the south This annual event from public radio station cake. These fires have killed at least seven and destroyed thousands of shoes across nearly a million acres, that many really large fires burning simultaneously? That's a new experience for me: Daniel Science, reporter shoe what it was like when she first started covering these massive wildfires and twenty fifteen. When those fires happened, it was felt like. Where did it come from? Like that's, that's wild, that's crazy, and then we had bad fires and twenty sixteen we have had fires and twenty seventeen. We have bad fires, and twenty eighteen and twenty nineteen and twenty twenty there too big reasons why wildfire
It had become more extreme furs. Climate change is making things hotter and drier second wildfires or natural. This apple but for more than a hundred years we ve done everything we could to suppress them battling fight. As with everything, from shovels and bulldozers to helicopters and giant air tankers, because fire has been suppressed for so long vegetation builds up and that means that there is more to burn. So when fired does hidden area, it burns hotter and it burns out of control for decades We ve known that the way we deal with wildfires is wrong, but inches long and changes hard, especially when that change means allowing those smaller fires to burn on a regular basis to get rid of that dance, vegetation, fire can be good
and low intensity, mid intensity. Fire protects us from bad out of control where's. The answer to all of this fire is actually more fire, more fire seems a strange thing to wish for, but it could our only way out of this catastrophe that we caused. So this is a human costs. One, and that means that humans can work to fix it and make it better than I do. Mean that is going to be easy, and I domains that it's gonna be quick, but it is possible for us to re examine how we think a fire we treat it and have. Healthier relationship with it today Look at how some communities are creating that healthy relationship with fire. In some in every one in the country needs to worry about, because wildfires are no longer just a problem in the west. There
bring into suburban communities all over the country before we get to that. NL searches, the pass for examples of how the? U S has dealt with major threats. As inspiration for how we can bring about change now. Let's travel back in time to nineteen twelve to the sinking. The titanic despite the transmission of frantic s, O S, signals could not arrive in time. From the moment the ship sank. It became clear that their hadn't, been provision to save everybody's life on the ship, Stephen Beale, as a historian at Harvard whose written several books about the titanic. He says the ship makers from their perspective, took safety seriously in fact exceeded the number of lifeboats that they were where to have, but that number was based on ship tonnage, not how many people were on board, and so there is a huge outcry about this, and that really would lead
change new safety regulations worldwide within two years. One of the things about the stories of disasters is that we want them to be meaningless ray. We want some good to have come from this, so that whatever disaster is will never happen again. Californians are in a similar moment now the camp fire ripped through the town of Paradise last November, the dead is fire anywhere in the United States in a hundred years it killed. Eighty five people more than the Loma pre ETA earthquake and left a path of ash and ruin that shocked people across the state. It literally looks like a war zone haughtily court held by trees. On over many years, asking can we make sure this doesn't happen again. Well, that's a challenge because you know there is at least a hundred paradise is out. There. Scots deepens the fire science professor, it you see Berkeley. He says millions of people in the state live close to wild lands
There are so many smaller towns, a lot of small towns all over southern before new northern California word we have. These conditions, we have conditions of high fuel loads, very difficult ways to get in and out. Communities, fire has always been part of California, but this date is experiencing increasingly deadly and catastrophic fires, she doesn't. Seventeen was the worst year on record until the fires of two thousand eighteen. Does it have to be this way? No, it can be better. Californians could have safer homes, healthier forests, cleaner air, even in the face of unpredictable wildfires, mean if you, if this became a priority enough for health meal for our kids in our grandkids anybody else, it happened right, it's not like something is impossible, but it does mean asking tough questions about how we live in this state. Questions such as are there places where we shouldn't rebuild. Do we fine homeowners who don't click?
vegetation and can we agree On how to manage forests grappling with these quest we'll call in Californians to evaluate competing priorities, but we ve done it before think about what it was like to be in a restaurant before public smoking bans, people simply took it for granted that the indoor spaces we're going to be contaminated with tobacco smoke. James pace as an anti smoking advocate to help get some of the first non smoking bills passed in the late nineteenth seventies. He says at the time the thought of telling people they couldn't smoke wherever they light, was unthinkable, that started to shift when public information campaigns top people about the dangers of breathing tobacco smoke. Why do people smoke yogi according to rules that they be better off? Why don't? They might have the right to smoke, but you don't have a right to let your small make other people sick
and so it's a hierarchy of needs, everyone's need for health triumph over some people's need to smoke slowly through grassroots pressure, and political will to day there is low. Heart and respiratory disease. So it did take a generation, but with respect to the climate issues, we don't have a generation, time is running out. Climate change is already making our fires more destructive, but it's not the first time he have tackled and ecological crisis after the damage began. How we see the plant Wednesday environmental Protection for your startlingly acid rain problem with new rule, we improved food safety band, lead again lean and cleaned up, polluted rivers, Scott Even if things Californians can do it again with wildfire there really hope in this state there's hope for systems be more fire resilient, better adapted to climate change, so I think there really is hope and there way to support,
case of the titanic change happen, because people wanted to stop that kind of disaster from happening again. In the case of smoking, bans people reexamined their values, drew Dillinger. As an author who studies the civil rights movement, he says to move eighty in new directions. People also need to picture what the future click be. If you think of Martin Luther king, the speech that he gave after the first successful day the bus boycott. She said there will come a time in the future where people will look back and say that there lived a group of people who are willing to stand up and inject new meaning into the veins of civilization. So it did. It requires a sense of imagination and possibility and what can be can we imagine a California where were unlikely to lose entire towns, where fire is not a force that Strides neighborhoods, it's a tool to keep force healthy. Scott Stephen says it's. Battery framing a fundamental relationship is given
come really people in the land. It really is upset simple, real people and the land can they work together. At least even says. Whatever is good for the land we live on will be good for us. It's a simple yeah, but working with fire and working with land requires radical rethinking of how we build and how we live together less Daniel VIN Science or border for cake. You Eddie and San Francisco from here go inside a wildfire that forced him accusations from ten thousand homes, redress flames on either side of the road, we have on the ridge line. I can see the fire torture through some larger brush about fifty feet away. And I believe that my pays for the hillside is burning. Next to me, that's next on reveal from
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From the centre for investigative reporting in p r ex. This is reveal analysis each year about five hundred thousand acres burn in California. Wildfires. For this throughout the state, more than two million acres have already burnt two million, and it's always September where I live. In the San Francisco Bay area. There was one day recently when people walking around with flashlights, all morning long because the sky was dark and orange and felt like the apocalypse was at hand. Of course fires are nothing new, but the season becoming longer fires, more intense and the damage more deadly. We first are looking at this trend back and twenty sixteen or data rapporteur at the time Eric Cigar had been obsessed with wildfires for years,
He even gotten some training as a wildly and firefighter, so he was equipped to cover the fires from his laptop and on the ground. Today we revisit a story. Air brought us back in July of twenty sixteen he travelled to LOS Angeles County just in time for what was known as the sand fire named after nearby sand. King This is a hot fast fire and canyons were scattered, neighborhoods dot, the angels National Forest. Three of us, from reveal right in a rented suv along roads lined with Chaparral. It's a bush us what's mobile oil. When it's warm, we stop we're road cuts through the hillside, on the others it is just a wall smoke we back into a parking, and leave the engine running in case. We need to leave quickly nearby a group of fire fighters, is planning the air attack, so we're trying to keep it from Japan. This combined.
Download again did Andrew Violante from this. Marcus Fire Department or the main out fires running China slump oversight of the fire for Austria, and we have our support European in return soon a heavy lived conquer hovers in low dropping loads of neon pink retarding from the sky by accident. I get him virus even the ground near fight, I can still see fire lurking around them out. Flames on either side of the road, including up on the ridge line. I can see the fire torturing through some larger brush about fifty feet away
don't you feel the Eba. My pays for the hillside is burning next to me, just on the other side of the hill, a suburban neighbourhood pushes into the wild land area claims all Diskiver gradually Firefox. Our position on the hill around and evacuated Cul de SAC, ready to defend homes there, something so post apocalyptic about a suburban neighbourhood. On a sunny day with no people Sprinklers are running on the rooftops in a feeble attempted to keep their homes safe. Mrs Maes, firefighters dish, while prevent tour county, have partner engines, their scattered throughout the neighbourhood, just waiting for the fire to hit. I see other firefighters person rooftops They have a better view of the flames from there and can put any members that fly their way home in this area have lived with fires like this. Many of
brush around their houses, to create what firefighters called defensible space properties where they don't see that at its is difficult for us, in that it makes it dangerous for us dangers and expensive in California cost one thousand and eager to put out fires. Were wild man meets homes, the arrow what your departments inspector General report, that's more than twice what it costs to fight fires and force without people, Stephen pine has written twenty bucks. Examining all this. We know how he passes from burning. We ve known for a long time. Problem is more people than ever choose to live near nature to find out just many people. That is, I am the database from the universe in Wisconsin. Millions of records to help me pinpoint warehouses mingle with wild land,
I found that more than a third of the nearly sixteen million homes built in the U S, since two thousand are in places at risk of wildfires descent. There's only ten percent contained when some twenty thousand evacuees are allowed to return homeownership airline Gomes is one of them. I ask her: what does all this look like this We have never seen a wildfire it too wasn't? It loses unpredictable times explained three different directions. At the same time and in the you should change and swirl, and you just you know you hoping and praying it isn't. Gonna get. You know anybody. This is a third When I can remember that was actually real threatening. In the past Why do we stay? It's a wonder: neighbourhood, it's wonderful community and you take her to the odds, are we're still after three fires were still here,
we drive away past the blackened landscape. A column of smoke rises in the Dirt brown sky. It would take twelve days were firefighters to contain the sand. Fire kill killed a man destroyed eighteen homes bird morning forty thousand acres and stripped the hillside of every living thing Why fires like this still happen to learn more I went to see why Covington, who heads the economic Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. He looks like a tall. Outdoors grandfather with a twinkle in his eye research has changed. The way Americans managed force through techniques calls treatment, cutting down trees that than the forest said. Controlled burns that kind of thing we to the hundred acre fires used to be outliers? Freak occurrences got to be a thousand acres, and people said
while still some unusual avails Roy Dry Year, lightning it in the wrong place and so on, but once it got into Every year in and year out million acre millions acres burning each year than people said well something bad here, something the two of US stamina: swaths of forest by Doris Pack, path on one side large centuries old pines with orange, yellow bark, Don Open landscape This is the way while he says for should look on the other side, younger, darker pine stand and what people call a dog hair patch dense, like the hair, in the back of a dog This is what many force look like today. While we study the two sides and his outdoor laboratory where each as to restore the forest to explain why he cares across such
dump from a tree that began growing in the least sixteen hundreds, the rings and the stump tell the story of forest policy over five hundred years in the middle. The stump The tree was young. Its wings are wide indicating healthy growth lightning struck in seventeen. Fifty seven from that, I'm Ford, you can see the stump is lined with scars from fires. There. Seventeen seventy three, seventeen eighty five eighteen o three. So this force is supposed to burn every two to seven years under natural conditions: that's eighteen, thirty, nine! Eighteen, fifty seven all told eighteen fires from seventeen fifty seven to eighteen, seventy six! Then the fire stopped shortly after eighteen. Seventy
ex cattle and livestock grazing began in earnest out here and serious overgrazing. When we point out the trees, wings got thinner has continued to grow. That's because it had to compete with more invitation for the nutrients are needed to stay alive. This made it more vulnerable to insects, drought and fire conditions like affect millions of trees throughout the country. This overgrazing was actually encouraged by early foresters as a way to keep fire out of the forest goes far was seen The enemy, no scientists, that climate change will alter fire activity throughout the United States. What periods we wetter dry periods, dry, storms or bring less rain and snow instead will see more lightning their sports wildfires and wind that can drive flames with explosive for The story has still nationally been one were stupid. Westerners are put houses where there are fires- and that's true, Stephen Pine knows this from experience.
Then fifteen years as a wild land firefighter. He used where he knew. Keep his vacation home safe from a fire five years ago, but as the climate and my are correct. We're going start seeing the fires go to where the houses are and that's going to be increasingly be on the east. That pointed become national story, there's a lot of information about wildfires in the West, because there's more federal land there and the federal government, keep track of all that data. We know less about while Frozen EAST, because state and local fire agencies don't always track the same information. But we do have shows that seventy percent of wildfires occur outside of western states, but one estimates as local firefighters responded nine hundred wilder's each day. On average, We also know many local departments are prepared for wildfires. These probably smaller than what we see on television an acre here.
I make sure there that small grass fire by the side of the road may not seem like a big deal tell her reaches out of control this is an amber carried by an unexpected gust of wind. That's what happened South Carolina three years ago, never even crossed my mind that I could potentially lose everything to a fire Jody Eldridge. This kind of burned in a fire ribbon and several thousand fires interstate between linking eighty two and twenty thirteen he drove from one straight, back street, you could look down and see I'm flying. Imagine Tuesday ray condos, there's four units and each building, and there nothing, but flames and black smoke flames jump from Bush. The bush. Building to building they melted. The white picket fence. Is that line treats I mean, usually what we get our smaller brushfires, but other than that had never been. This huge
danger that we had heard a totally left behind a puppy called puck and pretty much everything else, baby pictures things from high school. Did you know some of the things as a woman you hold onto a certain outfit, because You remember and I met then with special to you that you are that two things like that that I can't ever get back out of the fund she train to become a volunteer fire fighter and got a better. Understanding of just how much the homes and the people who live in them are at risk at all. Far more aware of it now, but I do feel like a number of fires have increased each year, fires mean more homes are likely to burn we're getting around. That's his Jim Herbert. He is the man I'm in charge, wildfires for the forest service. I would say that we welcome Can you to lose buildings and homes?
There are just some that aren't gonna be saved. He says, saving the lives of residents and firefighters has to be as easy as his top priority. That means there are some places at some time that we won't be able to save The buildings Stephen pints as leaders need to cultivate the political will for change around wildfire policies. I wonder or how did cities quit burning? It's because were political decisions about building codes, fire insurance standards fundamental issues that are not left to the market, not left to individual or developers whims, and until we have political decision on that scale, you're not going to solve the problem, and settings every fire. You pulled out. There's a problem solved and while bland most while land refer, you put
this problem put off. He used for service owns one hundred million acres of overgrown lambent treatment. More than high risk of fire. The agencies, three hundred million dollars a year to them the forest that covers about represent the work it needs to do doubling the budget. I'm close to fishing the job. What will it cost? What I can tell you is more money than is likely to be available we will never have enough money to treat all of the land within budgetary limits, Jim Herbert of the forest services, careful not to make any promises. His agency can't keep We can eliminate fire and we can't restore the forest with just a ten thousand acre treatment. We might be able to reduce the risk
to a community. With that treatment for service officials, the sidewalk the treat using a risk analysis to accord sounding term specially the decisions they make mean that some places Wilbur, but they dont analyze the risk on every treatment so there's no way to tell if what they're doing is preventing home from burning down? It certainly be done. Nationally Jenna Lee now we're trying to make sure that the forests and the districts understand how to use the tool and I wouldn't say where they're everywhere, but it's coming fast Jim says. The forest service has fallen short of its treatment goals. The last couple of years, because forming alliances with private military and state landowners, and we can do but a treatments, but if we want to be effective, it requires All of us, the acknowledging the problem, man,
We will need to manage unplanned wildfire in ways that we have in the past thanks Eric Cigar for bringing us that story that originally here back in twenty? Sixteen, we should say the data air worked on was from two thousand to twenty sixteen, but what he found is still true today, We should also mention that one of the people are exploited. Wily Covington has, since retired, from his job at Northern Arizona Universe we ve seen what happens when a wildfire tears to a city or town. What happens next when we come back will hear how developers have profited off of wildfires and rebuild homes in place of this. A good chance of burning down again I've only put thirty.
Five hundred into it right, all the other neighbour of our thirty five on are you listening to reveal- from the centre for investigative reporting and p r exe virus is reveal analysis. When we talk about wildfires about that warning on your rearview, mirror objects may be closer, they appear People in your no Arizona ninety miles North West Phoenix learn that the hard way back in twenty thirteen Their town became a national example of how expensive dangerous it can be. Contain a wildfire, the Colonel Hill fire to the lives of nineteen, specially trained firefighters, granite mountain hotshots, fire also destroyed more than one hundred homes back in time
Sixteen. When we first air this story, houses were already rebuilt even oh, they were at risk from future wildfires. His reporter Emmanuel Martinez, The Yarnell Hill fire started on a Friday with a lightning strike. It was small at first about half an acre and it wasn't supposed to get much bigger. It was far enough from town that it caught Brian Smith, guard. I get calls this or a fire, and I kept looking around and I see no fire. Brain is a lanky retired chemist who wears glasses, held together. What scotch tape he's lived in your now. For almost ten years, it's a real old town in an unincorporated part of you have a pie. County brain ended up here because of his dad. He was tired of the desert, it's hard hill and then retired appear, because the breeze, actually so peaceful, a sign on the edge of town describes it as a place where they
desert Breeze meets the mountain air. Those same breezes can turn into powerful gust of wind. Without warning, On top of that, the region was bone dry. Fifty years had passed without a major wild fire when the twenty thirteen fire started it threatened to neighbouring towns. Two days later, a thunder. Storm had the area its forty miles an hour wins carried the fire straight towards the weeds bushes, an trees at brushed against many of the houses. In your now Barks numbers started coming, swains what time of the year things are pretty dry you know where were they landed with poop pick exploded? one of those embers landed on brains, porch and ignited. It
went watered it in the bushes started, exploding all around me and, and I wholly Moses hissed. It's the burning bush, it's time to get the hell out of here. First, though, brain, had to run back inside. He was taking care of his only ill. Eighty four year old cousin at the time I got her idea in my idea and we left. We left everything just we left it the word. Whatever happened was gonna happen. Authorities had issued evacuation orders for your now on Sunday afternoon before the fire reached people's homes. Brian says in his cousin waited for hospice workers who promised to pick them up when nobody arrived brain, Fung his cousins arm over his shoulder and walked outside in shorts and flip flops to land escape on fire pretty well determine them here,
I was gonna get her out of here and whenever chuck it was slow, going, claims around them were as high as it two story house they had. This log a quarter of a mile through thick black smoke before they found help along the way. Brien heard tyres and propane takes explode. He and his cousin did not get burned, but their lungs took a b. And then I spent the next six hours in the hospital so really you know what happened until after they had released me. It wasn't safe to go back for about a week When Brian returned home he saw the porch was charred, but his house was still standing the rest of town wasn't as lucky. The fire left a quarter of houses in your now in ashes
to another man in town. It looked like hell. That's veto, Austin, a general contractor in the three years since the fire he and others have jumped, started a lot of home building around your now we meet up with them outside a house he's working on manual. He didn't see the area until after the fire was out in the better nation was burned away. I mean every three other lot. You'll live tat, looked like some just whipped through there and destroyed everything they had and left the skeletons meaning The water shirt is a driver, the fridge operators, the fire, also left the foundations plumbing in electrical wiring. Luckily, for contractors, Vito, it's easier to rebuild on properties like that he described your knelt before fire as landlocked, meaning nobody wanted to sell their houses now, after the fire
land of Julie, because veto your nails monopoly man, because he knows a good deal when he sees one like the empty lot. He spots, while we're talking about and I know you pleaded bill s honor in men parts of the. U S. There are few restrictions on where people can build or rebuild research. At the university Wisconsin study this. They found that about a quarter of the house, does Lawson wildfires are rebuilt within five years, so home Those are either willing to face the risk of wild fire or there now the area, and they don't know what therein for in your now about half of the house's lessen the fire are in some stage of rebuilding veto, says a home. That's burned down can sprout worthwhile PA. Abilities on the same land, a vision pick up a visa partial, but has a second, Just a minute has the water and has a drive, has
two little mother in law house already on it and flip it. You know by building a nice home and help rebuilding the community. The county can't stop people from building in places that have burned down and might just born again. If somebody, on the piece of land, it's up to that person to decide whether to rebuild local gum, has it made new zoning rules since twenty thirteen fire, but it does require new construction to meet fire codes that require materials that prevent fires spreading when homeowners dont choose to rebuild. It opens the door four developers, big companies and small too, Where's like veto to flip and profit from abandoned properties is wrong. And veto explains the math behind this. He gets pretty excited. I've only put thirty five hundred injured rice, all So the neighbour of our authority, five hundred more bitter hopes to buy
from people who have chosen to move away from your now. But most homeowners aren't going anywhere. That includes Brian Smith, For my wife and my grandkids, my family you this is it the memory of those nineteen fire fighters who died on June thirtieth, two thousand thirteen still HANS him anyone know that later on and then they are all about age, my grandchildren, most of those and in their twenties and wallet I can't say much more. They are now he'll fire burned. More than eight thousand acres in Cosmo then, in a half million dollars in property damage he sums. The way he feels about surviving the fire to me and my colleague Eric Fire again now, I'm not afraid of it.
Thanks to a man who Martinez for that story. So what does it take to put the fear of God and the people who live in areas prone to wildfires, Flagstaff Arizona. It took a catastrophe so big that the town couldn't ignore the thread any longer. It happened, June of twenty tat. Then I got a lot of coverage from local tv stations like ABC fifteen, in Arizona flame from this What's fire are approaching people's back yards the fast In short, fire has certainly left its mark, and what- has taken days to burn one I'll take decades to recover. During the Schulz Fire fifteen thousand acres burned. One thousand people were evacuated, no one at the time, but a couple weeks later man soon rains triggered a deadly landslide see really hot fire like this one.
Sleep melts soil and the glass water beads right off when there's enough rain. It runs right down the mountains into the town, at least in Flagstaff cleaning up after floodwaters, rushed through that area catching many off guard dozens of homes, damage and even a twelve The girl was killed, but the worst may still be the cop Instead of waiting for things to get worse, Flagstaff did something different people, Voted overwhelmingly to invest in a safer landscape that meant thinning the force teaching people to clear brush. We'd have anything around their houses, they can fuel a fire and completely transforming their fire department. Now when you think of a fire fighter. You tend to think of them. Is russian around there's been read red engines, right, but in flags these days. The job sounds more like this beautiful some fire fighting
spend ninety percent of their time on prevention, finning dense, unhealthy force. It's a radical shift reveals I'd, she's kind, Roger hung out with the Flagstaff Fire Department a few years back is that story. Twenty succeeding. There's a little Maria there is growing ever taken our track, I'm out here with wild land. Your supervisor from the Flagstaff Fire Department, Schuyler Lafayette, his energetic funny and fire experienced you can. Kind of where our decals got burned off a little bit, see that he's pointing at the Flagstaff fire crest on the side of his truck melted off, because the fire you that was so hot but respond The fire is less and less part of the job? So right now we're looking at about ten to twelve folks cunning off of trees and their dropping trees down onto the ground accrue city, firefighters is out here every day. Down small and medium Ponderosa Pine,
making concern cuts are lined up so that trees, gonna drop exactly where it wants to right where he wanted it. Next to the pile when people think a city department. This is probably the last thing that would come to their mind: Schuyler, not your typical city firefighter. You worked for Wally Covington Research Institute for years. He collected data on forests throughout the southwest. In knows the dangers and unhealthy forest compose the biggest threat for the city of Flagstaff is Wildman fire. The number one threat The problem is, we don't see that threat for what it actually is, the seventy thousand people who live in Flagstaff there are hiking, baking outdoors crowd and they love that
Is encircled by the largest contiguous, Ponderosa Pine Forest in the country they, like most of us, see lots of trees and think that's a healthy forest, Firefighters like Schuyler Seed, that same forests as a potential, fire around the city the by product of a hundred years, the timber policy that promoted dense growth and forest management that suppressed all fire from the forest. The trick is getting the people of Flagstaff to see it that way, and unlike most of the places we visited this hour, they were, well to recognise that threat and act on it. We have we had this whole fulfil James and wives, therefrom cut in any trees. Now, no, we need that we need to take out some free, so we don't lose all of our treaties.
You know landmark vote the residents of Flagstaff approved funding to cut down trees to save the poorest and their town. It was a forward looking decision to turn back the clock on their ponderosa pines. Looking back in the past pre settlement times, this force was described more Savannah like which is I mean, if you think about that thinking of Ponderosa Pines and then like Savannah like this, and you could write a horse Forty miles an hour through the woods and not hit entry. In now, Schuyler team is turning this modern forest back into frontier Savannah. Mostly, clearing is done with logging machines, but the fine detail work can only be done with the painterly touch a hand, operated chainsaw. We don't want a uniform landscape. We try to me get what we call county groupie, so we determined within a nunnery group, yep, clumsy groupie, and that's it it's a scientific tyrants, there's gonna. While that's a prescription right yeah, let's make some cookies here I want some company grouping together,
so we're out here on this island. We we say this is a group and within this group we want counts. Colombia. Groupie is the opposite of a dark, dense forest. There's lots of open space around clumps of trees. It's also fire safe. If lightning strikes in a clumsy groupie forest fires sweeps along the ground, clearing underbrush, dead things and lots of little trees. Right now, the forest still has dense patches of these small trees. That would be exclusively flammable young pines are sometimes called the latter fuels because flames climbed up one tree jump to a slightly bigger one till they reached the tallest tree tops that's when I'll fire turns into a dangerous wildfire, but so much schuyler and his team can do out geared to reduce the risk to people and property residents have to chip in to protect their own homes, as he drives us back towards town
We pass a neighborhood nestled into the fourth Anne Schuyler points out the window. Some residents aren't doing themselves any favours if there was a fire started. This is gonna get high. He stacked up firewood all against his wooden fence. That leads all the way to his home and its right up underneath trees. Basically, there's a trail of kindling, leading right to their doorstep, We say a word. We recommend, sir, maybe not Thailand firewood underneath all these trees against his wooden Venza leads to your home. We would read, men piling this maybe uphill of slope and away from many trees. You know open areas. So if there wasn't amber to land in there, it wouldn't consequently burn up the word Bert up the forest. You wouldn't France, and in Europe,
Educating homeowners, so they don't make stupid mistakes is a full time job here for generally burn any less can she's gotten that before his Gerald and is a dedicated specialist at the Flagstaff Fire Department who helped neighborhoods adapt to fire some of the most desirable neighborhoods here push in the forest all over America developers keep building further and further out into wild land, and people want live in the beauty of nature, with the amenities of a nearby city, keep moving it to where we live. So right now, our and Pine Canyon, this neighborhood from the ground use fire wise construction fire wise. She means the planters of this neighbourhood used fire resistant building materials. They created several entry and exit points for fire fighters and they make
the yards here are clear of dry leaves and brush around each house. If a fireworks, through this neighborhood, they would be pretty well protected. There's a lot of defensive space access here, federal state and local agencies partner to set these standards there more than a thousand communities recognised as five. Wise. We feel comfortable as firefighters coming into this area and being able to defend these homes the gold standard. This would be a gold standard neighbourhood. Yes, the people of Pine Canyon have to be gold standard. Should a fire start to the south,
a flag sat here. They would be the first community that would be impact it, but you can cost hundreds of dollars to hire someone to cut down a dead tree on your property. Maintaining that cleared space can take time and money. As I looked around at pine canyons, manicured lawns, with dry, wasteful of Bmw's and benzes, I had to ask Jerusalem is only possible to have a gold standard. Five, community, doesn't need to be a wealthy community. That is a good question most of the time it does for long for income communities that can afford to keep up with maintenance, german doesn't ticket people. Instead, she offers cash prizes for the best design fire safety arts we really try to add just to encourage more positive feedback loop with that code together yes, more of the care less of a stick algorithm.
German, relies on local building codes that require new developments to manage their own thinning and keep their property clear of fuels. She understands that public outreach only works as part of bigger picture, so we can show them and then we can educate on that day, it is just stay we're doing. Prevention, on a grand scale on this landscape scale prevention work isn't just happening in neighborhoods like the ones airlines in or city on land like that tree thinning operation, a large part of it is happening on federal, forced service, land, We don't have to walk all the way down there, just kind of wonder I can assure you The area that we're gonna be treaty in over the net where's Matt MILAN
is another program director from Flagstaffs Fire department. He takes us to the base of the Dried Lake Hill, in the casino national forest. The overall goal of the project is to reduce the risk of large high intensity, catastrophic fires and the flooding that can happen after a large fire, we're close to where sure fire happened, that's the when they burned. Fifteen thousand acres back and twenty Tannen triggered a fatal. And slide now this place is still a risk. I'll be a lot of trees that will be removed here, which will really change the way that the fourth looks at it I'm mats done they may remove more than half the trees, the small medium ones in particular, but it doesn't stop their face too. We will move to the top of the mountains, so eventually This whole area will have been treated he's pointing to a peak about ten thousand feet.
Logging machines can't reach there, so they need to use helicopters to deny the trees on the highest steepest slopes, its ambitious and expensive. But it's part of the same plan. Nearly three quarters of the town voted: to approve the people are Flagstaff are very aware of the hazards. Traffic fire and their very proactive in in casting a vote to approve Ten million dollar bond to do this forest finian work, which I think is really unique situation. They approved it because economically, it makes sense. A captain of Flagstaff fire put it like this. His department spent eight thousand dollars on passing. A bond worth ten million aimed at preventing five hundred million and damages. Remember fight
in these areas where the wild meets the residential are crazy, expensive. The Schulz fire alone, which didn't actually burn a single structure, cost twelve million dollars to fight. And another hundred and forty million in recovery costs like property damage. I think about some of the larger fires Two hundred million dollars or more, I think, about the amount of senator forest treatments that could be done using that money mats new on this project. Before this he worked for years as a hot shot, there soon alike, Navy seal to fire fighting they drop in and work and putting out some of the biggest most dangerous fires in the country and in the off season he was going to school to get his masters degree in environmental science, and now he appreciates the slow preventative work of
training, trees up a mountain. I think that the prevention side is, you can for many years and in other, the effects may not be apparent right away. I, whereas when you work in a suppression site Few go to a fire new work there for a few weeks. You know you can you can see her progress daily in as you have a virus Garcia exactly, and so that's rewarding
absolutely. But I just try to remember that from my view. Maybe that's not the right thing I should be doing. You know. I think I know enough now about fire, ecology and the importance of fire in the landscape that I really enjoy working in this project, because of what the in goals are, the goal, keeping the next big wildfire from happening. Now the city's approach won't work everywhere and the money to try new preventative measures won't always be there. But for now, Matt looks over the forest. Most of the slender trees he's cutting down our younger than he is, but if what he's doing works, the trees that remain could be around for another six hundred years, thanks to reveals actually kind of Roger who originally reported that story back in twenty sixteen and a huge thank you to kick you we d in San Francisco for their report. On the californian wildfires was edited by bread, Myers CATS, no Cheryl devolve Ike was our lead.
Do sir Eric Cigar in a manual Martinez reported with contributions from Scott Sham in general. A floor sound design team. For this one was the Justice League J Breezy. Jim Briggs and Clear see no moment withheld Fernando my man, your router and Amy Mustafa Christmas. Work is our see you miss Thompson. Is our editor in chief executive producer Kevin someone I my comrade of light. Support for reveals provided by the River and David Logan Foundation. The John D in Kathmandu, Macarthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, afford foundation the hiding Simons Foundation, the democracy fund and the ethics and excellence in journals foundation. Is a co production of the centre for investigative reporting and p r x, amount lesson and remember. There is always more to the story.
Transcript generated on 2020-09-12.