Decade of Fire
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Decade of Fire

  • BY Vivian Vázquez Irizarry, Gretchen Hildebran and Julia Steele Allen | IN Social Justice
    Premiered November 4, 2019

About the Film

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. MORE

The Filmmakers

Vivian Vázquez Irizarry (Co-Director/Producer) 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 (Co-Director/Producer/Editor) 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 Steele Allen (Producer/Impact Producer) is an award-winning multidisciplinary artist and a community organizer from New York City. She worked for many years as a community organizer 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, legislators and community members across ten states, as part of the growing movement to end solitary confinement in the nation’s prisons. She is the Co-Chair of CASA (Community Action for Safe Apartments) Solidarity Board, a Bronx tenant’s rights and housing justice organization. LESS

Film Credits

Directed and Written by
Vivian Vázquez Irizarry
Gretchen Hildebran

Produced by
Vivian Vázquez Irizarry
Gretchen Hildebran
Julia Steele Allen

Produced by
Neyda Martinez

Story Developed by
Vivian Vázquez Irizarry
Gretchen Hildebran
Julia Steele Allen

Executive Producers
Sally Jo Fifer
Lois Vossen
Sandie Viquez Pedlow
Leslie Fields-Cruz

Supervising Producer
Michael Kinomoto

Consulting Producer
Yoruba Richen

Associate Producer
Davina Pardo
Hayley Goodrich

Featuring (in order of appearance)
Vivian Vázquez Irizarry
Ricardo Antonio Irizarry
Carmen Rosado
Miguel A. Amadeo
Hetty Fox
Robert Foster
John Finucane
Joseph Flood
Evelyn Gonzalez
Vincent Dunn
Fredrick B. MeLahn Jr.
Lorine Padilla
Ramón Rueda
Harry DeRienzo
Alberto L. Quiñones
Kilsey Pena
Jashua Rojas
Kleiner Almonte

Edwin Martinez

Production Sound
Adrian Martinez
Steve Clack
Spencer Moore
Tyler Cartner
Steve French
Julia Steele Allen
Denzil Xavier
Aisha Hallgren
Jesse Kennedy
Anna Jacobs
Kelcey Edwards
Robert Albrecht
Dave Scaringe
Stephen Martinez

Additional Camera
Gretchen Hildebran
Joshua Mayes
Jesus Villalba

Assistant Camera
Josue Loayza
Max Mooney

Edited by
Gretchen Hildebran
Sonia Gonzalez-Martinez
Penelope Falk

TV Cut Editor
Melanie Vi Levy

Consulting Editor
Mark Meatto

Supervising Editor
Sam Pollard

Assistant Editors
Jessica Windt
Luz Marina Zamora
Nandita Ahmed

Editing and Story Consultants
Edwin Martinez
Sabrina Schmidt Gordon

Narration Consultant
Migdalia Cruz

Voiceover Studio

Voiceover Coaching
James Langton
Onel Mulet

Archival Producers
Rachel Antell
Jennifer Petrucelli

Additional Archival Research
Sheila Maniar

Archival Assistant
Diane Nicole Pangelinan

Archival Consultant
Steve Rivo

Bench Ansfield
Hannah Shepard

Graphic Designer
Dave Tecson

Elizabeth Daggar

Colorist/Online Editor
Rick Broat

Conform Editors
Bahron Thomas
Crystal De Boulet

Post Facility Supervisors
Keith Shapiro
Sheila Lynch

TV Cut Color and Mastering
Heather Weaver

Sound Supervisor
Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach

Re-Recording Mixers
James LeBrecht
Bijan Sharifi

TV Cut Re-Recording Mixer
Daniel Olmsted

Sound Designer
Bijan Sharifi

Sound Effects Editor
William Sammons

Original Score
Arturo Ortiz

Additional Music
Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach and Onel Mulet

Score Mixed and Produced by
Jacob Bloomfield-Misrach

Nelson Jaime Gazu: Trumpet, Cuatro and Brass
Carlos Padron: Percussion
Arturo Ortiz: Electric Piano, Bass, and Percussion

Music Supervisor
Margaret Guerra Rogers

Production Counsel
Law Office of Fernando Ramirez

Clearance Counsel
Donaldson + Callif LLP

Archival Materials Provided by
ABCNews VideoSource * Abraham Raphael Footage/ Getty Images * Alberto L. Quiñones *
AP Archive * Archives of Michigan * Banana Kelly Productions/Melissa Goldsmith *
BBC Motion Gallery/Getty Images * Bettman/Getty Images *
Bill Stahl Jr./NY Daily News Archive/Getty Images * “Broken Promises” graffiti by John Fekner
“The Bronx: A Cry for Help” by Brent Owens ©1987 * The Broadway Video Group, Inc. * Carmen Rosado
“Manos a la Obra: Operation Bootstrap” Centro de Estudios Puertorriqueños, Hunter College, CUNY *
Charlotta Bass / California Eagle Photograph Collection, 1880-1986, Southern California Library (Los Angeles, California) * CriticalPast * Conrad Montalvo * Dan McCoy/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images *
Dolores Vazquez * Eric Wingate * Fania Records, a Division of Concord Music *
Clips from "Flyin’ Cut Sleeves" courtesy of Henry Chalfant and Rita Fecher * ITN/Getty Images *
Joan De Jesus/Tribune Broadcasting/Getty Images * Joey Conzo Archives * John Grinvalsky *
John Kenny * Jose Rivera * LOLA Clips/ ITV Archive * Lorine Padilla *
The March of Time/Getty Images * Marisella Vazquez-Marin * Miguel A. Amadeo * Mildred Bonilla *
National Archives * NBCUniversal Archives * NYC Municipal Archives * Periscope Film *
Perla de Leon ©1980 * Prelinger Archives/Getty Images * Prelinger Archives/Internet Archive *
PublicDomainFootage * RetroFootage/Pond5 * RetroFootage *
Richard Lee/New York Post Archives/NYP Holdings, Inc./Getty Images * Rick Ray/Shutterstock *
Robert Foster * Sony Pictures Entertainment/Getty Images * Streamline Films, Inc. *
Third World Newsreel * Vivian Vázquez Irizarry * Wazee Digital * WCBS-TV * William Sarokin Films

Additional Material Provided by
“A Conversation with James Baldwin” WGBH * “Ain’t Gonna Eat My Mind” WNET/Tony Batten *
“American Sabor” Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service/Experience Music Project *
City Lore and Public Art Films *
“Fort Apache, The Bronx” Producers Circle/Time Life Films/Twentieth Century Fox/Daniel Petrie *
“It’s A Partnership” Black Moon Productions & Motion Inc. / Aetna *
“Look at America” Nixon Election Ad, Eugene Jones *
“Mayor Koch’s 10-Year Housing Plan” LaGuardia and Wagner Archives *
“New York, Death of a City” Fremantle Media * “New York: A Documentary Film” Steeplechase Films *
FHA 1939 Underwriting Manual, National Archives * FDNY Library *
Jill Jonnes Archives, Lehman Archives * Major League Baseball/ABC * New York Daily News *
New York Post * New York Times * News 12 Bronx *
Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition * NY1 *
“Improving the Deployment of New York City Fire Companies” and other papers of the Rand Corporation
* “The Warriors” Paramount Pictures/Walter Hill

“I Never Listen to Them”
Written by Alex Guy
Published by Elizabeth Alexander Guy
Performed by Led to Sea from the album “The Beautiful Humming of Ms. Fortune”
under license from Elizabeth Alexander Guy

Written by Jeremiah Patrick Lordan
Published by Regent Music Corp. (BMI)
under license from Sunflower Entertainment
Performed by the Incredible Bongo Band from the album “Bongo Rock”
Courtesy of Mr. Bongo Records

Composed and performed by Stuart Roslyn
Published by KPM APM
under license from Associated Production Music LLC

“Rican Beach”
Written by Alynda Lee Segarra
Published by Mariposa Gang Publishing
under license from BMG Rights Management LLC
Performed by Hurray for the Riff Raff from the album “The Navigator”
Courtesy of ATO Records

“French Riviera” and “Going Nowhere"
Published by Jingle Punks
under license from Jingle Punks

Special Thanks
52 People for Progress
Banana Kelly Community Improvement Association
Susanna Blankley
Mildred Bonilla
Roberta Brandes Gratz
Bronx Documentary Center
Sharese Bullock-Bailey
Lori Cheatle
Community Action for Safe Apartments
Jack Doyle
Engine 85 Fire Company, FDNY
Jennifer “Hope” Foster
George F. Mand Library, FDNY
Peter Goldmark
Carla Gutierrez
Angelica Irizarry
Gabriela Irizarry
Anna Jacobs
Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
Randy Joseph
Greg Jost
John Kenny
Peter Kolesar
“La Casa Grande” Firehouse Ladder 31/Engine 82, FDNY
Lava Dance Studio
Loira Limbal
The Mertz/Gilmore Foundation
Mel Moran
Janet Munch
Mark Naisan
The New York City Fire Museum
Northwest Bronx Community Clergy Coalition
Carmen Piniero
Lila Place
The Residents of Lyman Place, the Bronx
Basil Shadid
The Students of CMSP 327
Abu Talib
Tenants Association of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue
Deborah Wallace
Rodrick Wallace
Carol Waring
Bobby Williams

Fiscal Sponsors
Women Make Movies
Deep Dish TV

Production Support by
Mariette Pathy Allen
Susan Quinn and Daniel Jacobs
Diane Montgomery-Logan and Lanny Watts
Marisella Vázquez-Marin
Rick Irizarry
Ted and Mickey Jacobs
Jim Hildebran

Funding Provided by
Ford Foundation JustFilms
New York State Council on the Arts
Steve Amarante
BronxCare Health System
Bronx Council on the Arts
Elspeth Gilmore
Heidi Speigel
Ed Pickett
Lorraine Montenegro
Victor Hernandez
And others. A complete list available from PBS.

Original Series Funding Provided by
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting
John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
Wyncote Foundation
The National Endowment for the Arts

DECADE OF FIRE is a co-production of Red Nut Films, LLC and Independent Televisions Service (ITVS) in association with Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) and Black Public Media (BPM), with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

This program was produced by Red Nut Films, LLC which is solely responsible for its content.

© 2018 Red Nut Films, LLC. All rights reserved.

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"?


  • 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
Please review our comment guidelines.
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"?