Decade of Fire

Decade of Fire

November 04, 2019


Vivian Vázquez Irizarry , Gretchen Hildebran , and Julia S Allen

After an epidemic of fires in the 1970s, the South Bronx banded together and built a better future for their children.


About the Documentary

Decade of Fire covers a shocking but untold piece of American urban history, when the South Bronx was on fire in the 1970s. 

Left unprotected by the city government, nearly a quarter-million people were displaced as their close-knit, multiethnic neighborhood burned to the ground, reducing the community to rubble. 

Buildings burned almost continuously from an estimated forty fires a day that destroyed 80% of area housing stock and displaced a quarter-million residents. Decade of Fire uses striking, never-before-seen archival and home movie footage, plus testimonials from retired FDNY firefighters and brass, as well as Bronx historians and community organizers, to reveal the real reasons for the devastation, showing what can happen when a community chooses to fight back and reclaim their neighborhood. 

With the help of fellow survivors, Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, who grew up in the South Bronx, and other community leaders tell the story of how they banded together amidst the rubble and built a better future for their children.

The Filmmakers

Vivian Vázquez Irizarry

Vivian Vázquez Irizarry has run educational, GED completion and college access programs for youth across New York City for decades. She is the director of community-school partnerships at the New Settlement Community Campus in the Bronx. A former member of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights, she belongs to 52 People for Progress, a community organization that saved her childhood playground and revitalized the South Bronx for the last 35 years.

Gretchen Hildebran

Gretchen Hildebran is a documentary filmmaker and editor whose credits include Worth Saving (2004), which was presented in HBO’s Frame by Frame showcase, and Out in the Heartland (2005), which explored anti-gay legislation in Kentucky. A 2005 graduate of Stanford’s documentary program, Gretchen shot Ramona Diaz’s The Learning (2011) and has edited for the History Channel, PBS and the United Nations Development Programme, as well as independent documentaries. She also made a series of short documentaries used to educate communities across the country about life-saving interventions such as needle exchange and overdose prevention.

Julia S Allen

Julia S Allen (Producer and Engagement Producer) is an award-winning multi-disciplinary artist and a community organizer from New York City. She worked for ten years on educational justice campaigns in District 9 in the South Bronx. Since 2014, she has been touring her play, Mariposa & the Saint: From Solitary Confinement, A Play Through Letters performing for judges, wardens, corrections officials, legislators, as well as thousands of students, faith-based communities, formerly incarcerated people and their families, as part of the growing movement to end solitary confinement in this country. She is the Co-Chair of CASA (Community Action for Safe Apartments) Solidarity Board; a Bronx tenants’ rights and housing justice organization.

Full Credits


  • Chicago Latino Film Festival

    Audience Award, Best Documentary

  • Newark International Film Festival

    Best Documentary Director

  • Baltimore Black Film Festival

    Best Documentary

  • Independent Lens Audience Award

Learn more about the documentary

Join the Discussion

This story is set in the Bronx, but has anything like this happened in the city or community you live in? Have you ever had to band together with others in your community to protect it? Do you remember when "the Bronx was burning"?


Promotional Resources

Members of community clear rubble in the Bronx, in Decade of Fire. with Audience Award laurels