Short film, “Unacceptable Risk: Firefighters on the Front Lines of Climate Change”

In February we showed you a trailer for a short film made by The Story Group that premiered later that month, titled Unacceptable Risk: Firefighters on the Front Lines of Climate Change. Now the entire 12-minute film is available — above.

Here is the description of the film on Vimeo:

…The Story Group [based in Boulder, Colorado] recorded the experiences of firefighters who are repeatedly responding to record-breaking wildfires. Human-caused climate changes are transforming Colorado’s fire environment, bringing higher temperatures, drier fuels, and diseases to forests. These climate impacts mix with other human pressures to create a volatile situation for firefighters and communities. If current trends continue, we can expect more frequent, larger, and more devastating wildfires in Colorado and across the country.

It is really an excellent film. A great deal of information is packed into 12 minutes. What makes it special are the interviews with experienced firefighters who all testify to seeing fire behavior in the last decade or so that to their knowledge is unprecedented, at least in the front range of Colorado. The firefighters interviewed are all very well spoken and have something worthwhile to say.

They include Don Whittemore, an Incident Commander and a firefighter for 22 years; Chris O’Brien, Deputy Chief of the Lefthand Fire Protection District; Rod Moraga, Fire Behavior Analyst, firefighter for 28 years; and James Schanel, Battalion Chief, Colorado Springs Fire Department, firefighter for 30 years.

At the end they make a pitch about climate change, emphasizing how important it is to mitigate it NOW. And they are absolutely right. But there is a strong message for firefighters who are being forced to deal with a new normal. Mr. Whittemore said:

On a day to day basis we’re being surprised. And in this business, surprise is what kills people.

The visuals of wildfire are impressive — the videos, photographs, and time-lapse images.

The film can also be seen on Rocky Mountain PBS television. We can’t embed it here, but that version also includes interviews (beginning at 13:00) with Mr. Moraga and filmmaker Daniel Glick.

We received the following from Ted Wood of The Story Group, an Executive Producer and Camera Operator on the film:

The Story Group is funded entirely through grants and donations, and we’re trying to recoup some of our distribution costs by pointing people to our pay-per-download Vimeo site, where people who want to use the film for fire presentations, workshops, etc can pay $9.95 and download it. We’ve had a real interest from Colorado fire managers to use the film in training, and we’d like to offer it to a larger national audience.


Colorado to use new system to predict wildland fire behavior

Janice Coen Gov. John Hickenlooper sign bill

Gov. John Hickenlooper traveled to an Arvada fire station to sign the bill that will implement a wildfire prediction system. Dr. Janice Coen, one of the developers of the system, is on the left. Photo provided by COHOUSEDEMS.

The Governor of Colorado signed a bill Wednesday that authorizes the state to spend $1.2 million over the next two years on a “revolutionary” wildfire prediction system that uses weather data, groundbreaking computer modeling, and high resolution satellite imagery to predict the spread of fires up to 18 hours in advance.

Below is an excerpt from an article at the (Colorado Springs) Gazette:

…”This bill will predict the intensity and the direction of fires 12 to 18 hours ahead of time. That is really important so we know where to direct our planes, the aircraft we had a bill for last year, and our firefighters,” said Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp, D-Arvada, who introduced the bill. “This is really revolutionary.”

Under the new law, the Division of Fire Prevention and Control will contract with a nonprofit Colorado-based research organization with expertise in atmospheric science to predict wildfire behavior. The National Center for Atmospheric Research, a federally funded program headquartered in Boulder, is the only state agency that meets that criteria. NCAR has used modeling to accurately recreate the behavior of historic fires, including the Yarnell Hill fire that killed 19 Arizona firefighters in 2013.

She said the new technology could be in place by next spring and will work with the state’s new aerial fire fleet, a multimillion-dollar investment into wildfire detecting and fighting aircraft lawmakers made in 2013…

Janice Coen at the National Center for Atmospheric Research is one of the scientists working on this program. We have written about her work previously:

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Barbara.


Colorado governor signs two wildfire-related bills

From the Durango Herald:

Gov. John Hickenlooper [of Colorado signed] two wildfire-related bills Tuesday in Durango.

[The bills were] the Veterans Fire Corps for Wildfire Fighting bill and the Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant Program, according to FireWise, a nonprofit group that seeks to reduce the risk of wildfires. Both bills were sponsored by State Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango.

The Veterans Fire Corps bill authorizes the state to spend money providing training to Veterans Fire Corps, resulting in more year-round firefighting capacity.

The Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant Program provides funding for hazardous fuels removal and equipment. FireWise and other groups received almost $777,000 in grant money in 2013-14.


Shooters cause 250-acre fire in Colorado

The U.S. Forest Service has determined that a 250-acre fire in the Pike National Forest was caused by shooting. The Snyder Creek 2 fire was first reported Sunday afternoon three miles southeast of Kenosha Pass near Park County Road 56 approximately 19 miles North of Fairplay. There was a fire in the same area in 2011.

Firefighters battled 20 to 30 mph winds on Sunday, but expect full containment by Monday evening.

Snyder Creek 2 fire

Photo of the Snyder Creek Fire, by Park County Sheriff’s Office.

Thanks and a tip of the hat go out to Rick and Bean.


Colorado man’s controlled burn triggers evacuations

A southern Colorado man was cited on Saturday for arson, after a possible private controlled burn got out of control on the grassy plains east of Colorado Springs.

The small fire near Ellicott prompted evacuations in the communities of Ellicott and Peyton — at first evacuations were mandatory, until firefighters started to contain the burn and evacuation orders were relaxed to voluntary.

The fire sparked around 5:30 p.m. and spread to 150 acres in less than two hours, KOAA news in Colorado Springs reported.  The blaze was quickly contained by 7 p.m., and the homeowner who allegedly started the fire cited with fourth-degree arson, according to the Colorado Springs Gazette.

Colorado Springs is home to the state’s most destructive fires. In 2012, the Waldo Canyon fire burned more than 18,000 acres, destroyed 347 homes in Colorado Springs and killed two people. Almost exactly a year later, the Black Forest fire ignited east of Colorado Springs, and went to burn more than 15,000 acres, 486 homes and kill two people.

This year, El Paso County in southern Colorado has already had several small grass fires, although Saturday’s fire was the first this year to threaten homes.


Premier of short film: “Unacceptable Risk”

This trailer is about a short film that will premier February 24, 2015 at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, Colorado on 26th Street, between Canyon Boulevard and Walnut Street.

Here is how the film is described:

“Celebrate the premiere of Unacceptable Risk: Firefighters on the Front Lines of Climate Change – a short film, featuring local firefighters who have battled many of Colorado’s epic fires of the past decade.

Our wildland firefighters are witnessing climate change impacts in their daily lives. Unacceptable Risk examines how these climate changes are transforming Colorado’s fire environment, bringing higher temperatures, drier fuels, and diseases to forests, which combine to create volatile conditions for firefighters and communities.

Following the screening, firefighters, climate scientists, and the filmmakers will join the audience for a conversation about ways that Coloradans can work together to address climate change and the growing threat of wildfires.

A reception will follow in The Dairy’s McMahon Gallery. The gallery is currently featuring an exhibition inspired by climate-related issues, entitled “Fire and Rain,” by Colorado-based artist Mary-Ann Kokoska, who will speak about her work.

The film is produced by The Story Group, a Boulder-based company.”

Admission is free.