"Fire Wars"

PBS Airdate: May 7, 2002
Go to the companion Web site

NARRATOR: On a mountain near Los Alamos, New Mexico, the National Park Service begins a routine operation. The forest here is dangerously thick with trees and brush. If a wildfire starts, it could be catastrophic. So firefighters are trying to reduce the danger by burning now under controlled conditions. It's called a "prescribed fire."

MATT SNIDER (Arrowhead Hotshots): We felt pretty confident. Things were looking pretty good. We were having a little bit of problems hanging on to what we had up on the hill, but you will have problems occasionally holding prescribed fires.

NARRATOR: Within hours the problems take a terrible turn for the worse. The winds come up suddenly, gusting to 40 miles an hour. The fire escapes. Hundreds of firefighters join the battle, but it's too late. The fire is raging out of control. It races towards Los Alamos and the National Laboratory where toxic chemicals, high explosives and plutonium are stored. Eighteen thousand people begin evacuating the town. More than 43,000 acres are burned. The lab is spared, but 235 families lose their homes.

IRVING BIGIO (Los Alamos resident): It always surprised us that they would do controlled burns during April and May, when it's been known throughout history that April and May are the windy times of year in New Mexico, always.

NEIL SAMPSON (National Wildfire Consultant): Often, in the West, you've only got two or three days that are really right in terms of conditions to do many of these prescribed fires. They wanted to push the envelope. It was a gamble and they lost.

NARRATOR: They gambled because they felt they had to. The problem they were trying to fix is much bigger than Los Alamos. All across the West, forests are choked with explosive amounts of unburned fuel. Forty million Americans and many of our magnificent landscapes are at risk.

WILLIAM ARMSTRONG (U.S.D.A. Forest Service): We have behind us here a potential holocaust. Unless we can make a concerted effort to do what needs to be done, we're going to see these areas burn at intensities and with severities and with effects that are going to be felt for many, many generations afterwards.

NARRATOR: The fire in Los Alamos marked the start of the year 2000 season of fire, the first of the new millennium. In this landmark year, the mistakes of the past would collide with the realities of fire on the ground today in one of the most destructive seasons in memory. This summer would encapsulate all the drama, all the danger, all the difficulties of America's war on wildfire.

BRUCE BABBITT (U.S. Secretary of the Interior, 1992-2000): This summer, I think, is a warning. It's really important that we remember the warning and make certain that we're taking steps, because this is what we're going to be dealing with from now on.

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NARRATOR: Every year with the coming of spring, fire returns to the American West. For millions of years this has been part of the natural cycles of wind and rain, sun and fire that have shaped our planet.

Today there's a difference. For nearly a century we've tried to control nature, fighting fire as an enemy, working to exterminate it. We've attacked fire with all the weapons we have and still more acres burn, more property is lost, more people die. America is losing the war on fire.

To fight the fire wars, every year an army of 30,000 men and women gears up. They start work early in February with fires in Florida and the Southwest. This season had barely begun when disaster struck Los Alamos.

NEIL SAMPSON: It's hard to read any one event as a predictor of the future, but when we saw the Los Alamos fire break out as early as it did and be as difficult to control as it was, that was not a good sign.

NARRATOR: The army that fights these battles is made up of thousands of regular wildland firefighters. For the most difficult or dangerous fires an elite force is called in, the Hotshots.

BRIT ROSSO (Superintendent, Arrowhead Hotshots): Just got a dispatch on the phone. We got an assignment to go to the Inyo. Right now there's no one on the fire. It's up above 9,000 feet. Don't know if there's any more crews coming.

Get everything ready to go. We'll blast out of here in about 40 minutes.

NARRATOR: These are the Arrowhead Hotshots, one of 70 Hotshot crews in the U.S. The job they do combines hard work, high adventure and danger.

BRIT ROSSO: Being Hotshots and being what we feel is the best does not mean that you don't get hurt or killed. I mean it, it is a dangerous environment out there. And they usually do send us to the toughest portions of the fire, the most difficult terrain and the hottest parts of the fire.

NARRATOR: Some of these firefighters return to the Arrowheads season after season. Some are new. A few work year-round for the Park Service. Superintendent Brit Rosso is a 17-year veteran. Most fight fires as a summer job. Together they make a self-contained unit, ready to stay out in the wilderness until the fire is dead.

JON JONES (Arrowhead Hotshots): I have all my water and food and fuel and tools I'll need to be out for 24 hours or more with just the stuff that's on your back. The pack weighs 35 to 40 pounds full, so you don't want to carry anything you don't want.

NARRATOR: At the start of a season, no one can know what lies ahead. But the intensity of the Los Alamos fire only a few weeks earlier is a warning that conditions are not good.

BRIT ROSSO: It's definitely early for what's going on. Fuels are fairly dry and receptive to fire. So these indicators are starting to pop up for us already that it looks like it's shaping up to be a very busy season.

NARRATOR: The Los Alamos fire also touched Brit Rosso's crew in a personal way. Matt Snider was part of the team that set the Los Alamos prescribed burn. Now he's requested a new assignment with the Arrowheads.

MATT SNIDER: Sometimes bad things happen even when you try to do the right thing. And it is, it's a tragedy. You know, I know people that lost their homes in Los Alamos. Personally my confidence was extremely shaken. So I thought about what I wanted to do, and this was where I wanted to come. I know Brit. I trust him implicitly. This is one of the best Hotshot crews in the country, and I'm really happy to be here.

NARRATOR: For the next six months these young men and women will live and work together, fighting fires all across America. For them a season of fire has its own rhythm, starting soon after the last spring snow, flaring up through summer, winding down when autumn snows once again quell the flames.

BRIT ROSSO: It's our job. That's what we signed up to do, is work May to November.

NARRATOR: The Arrowheads will crisscross the West, travelling thousands of miles, rarely coming home to their families.

JON JONES: I haven't seen my wife and two-year-old son in 30 days.

NARRATOR: Like soldiers in war, their work will be filled with long stretches of tedium punctuated by brief moments charged with adrenaline.

JON JONES: It's very dynamic and changing, so every time you go to a fire you never know what you're going to get.

NARRATOR: They'll earn 10 dollars an hour plus overtime, doing physical labor in majestic country, battling a force of nature as beautiful as it is dangerous.

MATT SNIDER: That's one of the reasons that you do the job, is because there's hundreds of magical moments in each season that'll just stay in your memory forever.

NARRATOR: In July the Arrowheads are sent to eastern Idaho, to the Clear Creek fire. Started by lightning like many wildfires, it's burning in rugged backcountry in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. At 600 acres, the Clear Creek fire is not unusually large. But the steep terrain will make it tough and dangerous to fight. The Arrowheads plan to cut a firebreak around the flames to keep them from spreading.

BRIT ROSSO: Rich is going to take you guys out to the southern end of the ridge—the fire's across the ridge there—and you guys are going to start cutting that direct, with handline, direct. We're just trying to get this all corralled and just start killing it.

NARRATOR: Not long after they arrive, they begin picking up signs that the fire is heating up. It's throwing out embers and even the damp riverbanks are flaring up.

MATT SNIDER: I was watching the fire back down off the hill into the drainage, and the willows and the riparian vegetation that you usually don't expect to burn were being completely consumed.

NARRATOR: Willows are usually wet. If they're burning, anything can. This fire is spreading too quickly. Brit Rosso decides to get his crew to safety fast.

PATRICK MORGAN (Arrowhead Hotshots): Hey guys, everybody hear that? Plans are changing.

RON RIISE (Arrowhead Hotshots): We started rounding up the crew, started organizing the gear to move out to the escape route, out the line to the safety zone.

NARRATOR: A safety zone is a place that won't burn, somewhere they know they can get to if the fire blows up. The Arrowheads' safety zone is a rocky hillside that has already burned. They make it just in time.

ARROWHEAD HOTSHOT: Here come the boys, up to the safety zone.

JON JONES: We got our gear down in the bottom of the creek...burned up...the whole thing is covered. Just got our gear out in the nick of time. Another five minutes, it would've all been toast. Here it comes, right here.

NARRATOR: This is a "blowup," where the fire leaps suddenly from the ground up into the canopy of trees. It's now a crown fire, the most extreme form of fire behavior. The Arrowheads are trapped, surrounded by a sea of fire.

JOHN N. MACLEAN (Author and Journalist): These things can make these giant leaps—20, 30 yards in a space of a few seconds—and they do it as a ball of flame, tossed like a bouquet from one tree to another.

NARRATOR: Once a fire gets to this size, no one can stop it. A large crown fire can release as much energy as a Hiroshima-size atomic bomb every 15 minutes. As the trees burn they release flammable gasses, which ignite spontaneously in the air. Swirling air currents inside the fire create fire whirls, tornado-like funnels of flame. A crown fire creates its own weather. The intense heat drives an invisible chimney of hot air miles into the atmosphere. As it rises, cooler air is sucked into the base of the fire, creating wild winds that make the fire even more unpredictable and dangerous.

Sitting in the midst of two-hundred-foot flames, the Arrowheads are surprisingly calm. These veterans know there's nothing to do but wait.

JON JONES: I do think about my family when things go wrong. That's one of the number one things I think about, how dangerous this job is and the risk I put myself in.

MAYA ROCHELEAU (Arrowhead Hotshots): It's something natural that you don't have a lot of control over; that's kind of spiritual in itself.

BRIT ROSSO: It definitely gives you a sense of being a very small part in a very large environment and having no control over what's happening at the time.

NARRATOR: After three hours the fire moves on, and the Arrowheads can finally leave their safety zone. The Clear Creek fire has run eight miles uphill and down, and grown from 600 acres to 23,000. It's become the largest wildfire in America. Putting it out is now a national priority. People, equipment and millions of dollars will be thrown into the fight.

But going to war against wildfire means taking on nature itself. Fire was here long before we were. It's one of the ancient, inexorable forces that has made our planet what it is.

STEVE PYNE (Arizona State University): Fire has been around for over 400 million years. It's something that happens because all the ingredients are there. You've got fuel lying on the ground, you've got oxygen all over the atmosphere, you've got plenty of ignition.

NARRATOR: Nature's ignition, lightning, strikes the earth up to eight million times a day. When it hits dry fuels—grass, pine tar, small branches—the result is fire. In every part of the world, lightning sparks regular burning. Over millions of years, plants and animals have evolved with fire. Some even take advantage of it as a creative, life-giving force.

STEVE PYNE: The fact that it's been there, the fact that it has been a part of their environment the same way that certain patterns of rainfall or sunshine occur, means that they have adjusted their life cycles, their existence, to this rhythm of fire.

NORMAN L. CHRISTENSEN (Duke University): There are many species that don't just withstand the fire but, in fact, depend on it. Many species of pine, for example: the cones remain closed until a fire burns through the area. The heat of the fire actually melts waxes and causes the cones to expand and release the seeds.

NARRATOR: Different species use fire in different ways. California chaparral burns to the ground every few decades, then grows back up from the roots. Lodgepole pine burns more rarely. Every one to three hundred years, crown fires level the lodgepole forest and produce a whole new crop of seedlings.

The trees themselves record the history of how forests burn. Embedded in their growth rings are fire scars, charred lines left behind every time the tree is scorched.

CRAIG D. ALLEN (U.S. Geological Survey): These tree cross-sections show that for hundreds of years fires frequently burned through ponderosa pine forests. This is true throughout ponderosa pine forests in the West. Each of the black arrows represents a fire scar recorded in the tree, and you can see these events between 1796, 1814, 1822, 1847, 1851, 1861, 1874, 1879 and 1899. They were landscape-wide. They would spread across very large portions of landscape. Some years the whole Southwest was burning, we know from these fire scar records.

NARRATOR: These were not crown fires but low-intensity burns. They thinned out the smaller ponderosas, leaving nutrients and space for others to grow big and tall. Fire created open, park-like forests quite unlike the ones we're used to today.

CRAIG D. ALLEN: This is a good example of the kind of Ponderosa pine forest that used to be widespread in the western U.S. These open-grown, big trees, 300-year-old trees, 40 or so trees per acre with grassy understories. That was maintained this way by repeated surface fires.

NARRATOR: Throughout eons of history, the fires that shaped the earth's landscapes were sparked by lightning. Then, about one million years ago, another fire starter appeared.

STEVE PYNE: Only one creature that we know of acquired the ability, actually a species monopoly, to manipulate fire. We have fingers and hands and all the apparatus we need to pick it up, to start it, to stop it, to rearrange it, to move it around the planet. We came, if you will, genetically equipped to manipulate fire. But we don't come genetically programmed knowing how to use it. What should we do with this power?

NARRATOR: In North America, as in many parts of the world, indigenous peoples made fire their partner. Native Americans burned deliberately, using fire as a tool for hunting, clearing land for crops and molding the environment to their needs.

NORMAN L. CHRISTENSEN: They used it to keep the forest open to provide routes for travel, they used it to improve wildlife habitat. And that was happening all over North America, in the Plains, in the eastern states, in the Far West.

NARRATOR: When Europeans arrived here, many landscapes they thought of as natural were in fact the result of thousands of years of Native American burning. Early settlers learned from the Native Americans, but as Europeans moved across the continent and settled the West, the Native American approach to fire became controversial.

STEVE PYNE: The people who were actually on the ground, the frontiersmen, those in close contact with American Indians, always saw them burning and understood why they were doing it and saw the power of that. But again, the people in cities—academics, officials—saw it differently.

NARRATOR: In 1899, after studying wildfire in the West for three years, a U.S. Geological Survey report said that fire's effects were "always evil, without a single redeeming feature." But hardly anyone was ready to declare war on fire—until the summer of 1910.

That spring, little rain fell. By summer the Northern Rockies were tinder dry. Locomotives scattered sparks along tracks, starting fires that spread into the forest. Summer thunderstorms brought lightning. The fires began to multiply. Then, on August 20th, the weather made a sudden change.

STEVE PYNE: A cold front moves through. The wind picks up on the 20th steadily throughout the day, reaching essentially gale force speeds by late afternoon, and the fires have just erupted.

NARRATOR: Smaller fires merged into huge firestorms. Giant trees were uprooted and thrown around like straws. Settlers fled for their lives, crossing streams so hot the fish were dying.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: It was unbelievable how catastrophic it was. I mean it just...the whole country was on fire.

NARRATOR: Towering walls of flame roared through the woods. Hundreds of firefighters were cut off from escape.

STEVE PYNE: Just this huge pall bearing down on them, and noise, as one survivor put it, like a thousand trains rushing over a thousand steel trestles. They have no radios. They have no communications. They don't know where they are. They were out on their own.

NARRATOR: One of the trapped crews was led by Ranger Ed Pulaski who knew these woods well. Blinded by smoke, with 300-foot flames chasing them, Pulaski led his men to an old mineshaft. He remained at the entrance, holding them there despite their panic.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: He forced them to lie down, forced them to stay there. It was a spectacular one-man performance.

NARRATOR: The next morning the fire outside the mine had abated.

STEVE PYNE: They come to. They start making their way out the entrance, and they find the body of Ed Pulaski crumpled up in a heap. And one man looked down and said, "The boss is dead."

NARRATOR: "Like hell he is!" Pulaski's weak reply gave birth to a wildfire legend.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: He looms large as kind of the archetypal old-time ranger who did everything for his men, who basically put a gun to their heads and saved their lives.

NARRATOR: Ed Pulaski's heroics were dwarfed by the tragedy. To this day, the Big Blowup of 1910 remains the worst wildland firefighter disaster in American history: 78 dead, many more injured. For weeks, search parties combed the woods, finding survivors and bodies. The devastation was massive. Entire towns were destroyed. Three million acres burned in the Northern Rockies alone, 20 million across the entire West. In Boston, smoke turned the sun an eerie copper color. Soot fell on the ice in Greenland.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: It was a catastrophic event, not only for that region, but for the whole attitude of the United States toward fire.

NARRATOR: The Big Blowup stunned the country. It was the turning point that led to the creation of a national fire policy. From now on all fires would be put out, a goal that would be called 100 percent suppression. An all-out war on fire had begun.

STEVE PYNE: The next three chiefs of the Forest Service, all the way through 1939, were personally on the fire lines in 1910. They are going to remember those fires, and they are going to continue to try to re-fight it, and this time they're convinced they're going to win.

NARRATOR: To win this war on fire, an army was created. Technology—air power and radios—revolutionized fire detection. Thousands of young men flooded the backcountry, working for the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Depression. They cleared trails, built lookouts and fire roads. Organized crews trained to fight fires together, the predecessors of today's Hotshots. For the first time, Americans were taking on fire, confident they could win.

STEVE PYNE: So the country is, in a way, mobilized and sensitized to fire. And it's in that context that Walt Disney studios releases Bambi, which sends a very powerful "fire is hostile" message to children.

BAMBI film clip: Run for your lives! Fire!

NARRATOR: Bambi appeared in fire prevention ads until Disney decided it would no longer license the image. The search began for a different spokesman. After rejecting a squirrel, the ad agency came up with the perfect choice.

BRUCE BABBITT: People love animals, especially bears. We have a cultural tradition in which fire is the enemy. And so the bear becomes a symbol of the eternal historical struggle against sort of the biblical image of fire.

NARRATOR: Although Smokey was just a drawing at first, an actual cub, orphaned by a fire in New Mexico, soon became the real Smokey Bear.

FILM NARRATION: He was found clinging to what was left of a small tree. New Mexico game warden Ray Bell rushed that burned and frightened cub to the nearest animal hospital by plane.

BRUCE BABBITT: It was a very dramatic story, a real live bear that had been burned in a real fire.

FILM NARRATION: Yes, the little bear came through.

BRUCE BABBITT: And I think it sort of captured indelibly the attention of the whole nation.

NARRATOR: Little Smokey was given a home at the Washington National Zoo and began a long career promoting fire prevention. He had his own cartoon show and received so much mail that eventually he got his own zip code. One poll showed Smokey was better known than the president.

SMOKEY BEAR (public service announcement): Remember, only you can prevent forest fires.

NARRATOR: By the 1940s, America had a public relations campaign and a firefighting army with all the resources and will to make war on fire. Now, more than fifty years later, tools and techniques have evolved but one thing remains the same.

BRUCE BABBITT: The most important fire tool is the one that we've had from day one: a crew member out there right up against the fire, sucking up dust and sawing down trees and constructing fireline. It's just like the guys on the front line in a war. You know you can have all the incredible technology, aerial support, communications, space surveillance, but in the final analysis, a war is won by the ground-pounding grunt. And that's, I don't think, ever going to change.

NARRATOR: On the Clear Creek fire in Idaho, there are now 750 of these ground-pounding grunts at work. Sixteen Hotshot crews are battling this one fire, trying to stop it from destroying houses and more wildlands. They're not succeeding. The fire has grown from 600 to 23,000 to 40,000 acres. Clear Creek is now so large it's divided into sectors. The Arrowheads have been assigned to Division X, on the northeast ridge.

NOVA: How long have you been on this fire?

PATRICK MORGAN: I don't know. These guys count the days more than I do, but I think about 12...11 or 12.

HOTSHOT: Thirteen.

PATRICK MORGAN: Thirteen—there you have it.

NARRATOR: What the Arrowheads are doing here is a specialized kind of firefighting, very different from putting out a fire in a structure.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: If you go to fight a fire in a building, you put it out. If you go to fight a wildland fire, sometimes you don't put it out at all. Sometimes you just kind of herd it around.

NARRATOR: The unique tactics of wildland firefighting are rooted in the basic science of fire. Whether it's a tree torching or a single candle, fire is a chemical reaction requiring three ingredients: fuel, heat and oxygen. It starts when fuel is heated to the point of ignition. Flames generate new heat and more fire. To stop this chain reaction firefighters must remove one ingredient. Sometimes they can smother it, take out oxygen, or cool it, take out heat. Most of the time, with an entire landscape burning, neither is practical.

STEVE PYNE: You can't go, on a large fire, sort of 'mano a mano,' just try to take it on. These are huge events. You might as well talk about dealing with a volcano. You're driven to the margins so you create a fireline or a firebreak. How wide? Rule of thumb, maybe one and a half times as wide as flames are high. And you deny fuel to the fire.

NARRATOR: Denying fuel to the fire by cutting a firebreak is the heart of wildland firefighting. Right here, the Arrowheads need a line at least 10 feet wide to stop the coming fire. They start by taking out the largest fuels, trees. Behind the saw teams come hand crews. They cut, chop and dig with shovels, rakes, and pulaskis, the combination hoe and ax invented by Ranger Ed Pulaski, hero of the 1910 fires.

STEVE PYNE: It's the one tool that is both universal and unique to wildland fire. And every time someone picks up that tool on a fireline, he or she is retelling the story of the great fires of 1910.

NARRATOR: The hand crews have to scrape down to bare mineral soil because fire spreads most easily through "fine fuels" like pine needles and dead leaves.

CHRIS LONG (Arrowhead Hotshots): In the morning, you've got a little bit of smoke, a little bit of needle litter that's just kind of skunking around, just giving off a little wisp of smoke, and an hour later, get some sun on it and it starts moving. Couple of hours later you've got a tree torching. Ten minutes after that you've got a canopy fire.

BRIT ROSSO: It's not the romantic part, it's not the glamorous part, but it's what stops the fire, is all the stuff under the trees that no one else sees.

NARRATOR: There are miles of smoldering fuels along the twisting perimeter of this fire. Any part of it could flare up in minutes. Of all the factors that could make that happen, the most critical is weather.

CHRISTOPHER CUOCO (National Weather Service): Weather is the wild card which can determine if a fire remains tame and manageable or can blow up and rapidly change. Now, the fuels available to the fire change very slowly and they can be measured very exactly. And the terrain never changes. But the weather is the one thing that changes every day, every minute, every hour.

NARRATOR: The slightest shift in the weather can have deadly consequences. A drop in humidity will dry out twigs and leaves so they ignite more easily and burn faster. Higher temperatures, even the warmth of a sunny afternoon, also increase fire activity. Evening is usually safest: the ground cools, humidity rises, fires die down. But the cooling can cause gusty winds that will whip up a small fire into a big one. Since their survival may depend on the weather, the Arrowheads take measurements every hour, using a sling psychrometer to record temperature and relative humidity.

MATT SNIDER: Relative humidity is the amount of moisture in the air relative to the amount of moisture that the air mass can actually hold. And the reason we're concerned about that is because as the relative humidity drops the fine fuels become drier and fire activity increases.

NARRATOR: Relative humidity here is extremely low. The weather continues to be dangerously dry and hot, and the fire is growing. The Arrowheads are struggling to cut line all around the fire, but the steep terrain is slowing them down. Some places are simply too risky for firefighters to work in.

BRIT ROSSO: It's so steep and so rocky we're having a difficult time getting hand crews in here. So what we're doing is, we're pounding that edge with as much water as we can and try and park it on this slope. It's not the best tactic and it's not the way we'd like to go—we'd like to get a direct line in there if possible—but at this point in time, we can't find a safe way to do it.

NOVA: Why not just have machines do this?

MATT SNIDER: There's not machines that can work real effectively on these slopes. You'd have a heck of a time getting a 'dozer in here, and getting a 'dozer to push well, and they're exponentially more destructive than people with hand tools are. And you know, even with all the technology we've got, firefighting boils down to a lot of hard labor by human beings.

NARRATOR: The Arrowheads are not the only ones struggling. The West is exploding, with fires burning across Idaho, Montana, Colorado and eight other states. The hottest part of the summer is still ahead, and the system is already strained. The National Guard and Marines have been dispatched to reinforce the firefighters.

With crews and resources in short supply, it's critical to stop new fires as quickly as possible, while they're still small. If the fire is isolated in a remote location, that becomes a job for the smokejumpers.

Like the Hotshots, smokejumpers are elite firefighters. Even before joining the program, all jumper candidates must have years of experience on the fire line. Then there's the grueling five-week jumper training.

STEEN SIMONSEN (Smokejumper): People have really sore necks from having done ten practice landings in a row today, sore chests and collar bones from doing exit after exit on the tower and the gear is slapping you when you're getting out.

SMOKEJUMPER TRAINER: You need to bend your neck down and see your toes. I'm not going to say it's a great exit, but you'll survive.

FRED THOMPSON (Smokejumper in training): Oh, well, pretty much as soon as they told me that, uh, they're going to have to throw you out of an airplane in a forest fire, that's when I started wanting to do it. You know? It's important, you know? If you've got to have a job it might as well be fun.

EARL OLD CHIEF (Smokejumper in training): So these guys will pay me to jump—I won't have to pay anybody to jump out of a plane. It sounds pretty good. I sure hope everything goes right tomorrow.

MICHELLE BARGER (Smokejumper in training): I'm nervous. I think everyone is.

NARRATOR: Tomorrow is the crew's first jump.

EARL OLD CHIEF: Old Chief okay! My spirit left my body! Phew!

PEOPLE WATCHING: Good job. Congratulations.

NARRATOR: Training and deploying smokejumpers is so expensive that there are only about 400 in the nation. From the very beginning of the program in the 1930s, their advantage was obvious. Aerial firefighters could arrive within hours on remote fires that would have taken days to reach on foot.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: It had a wonderful effect initially. I mean you could take a couple of people—literally two—and send them out in an airplane, and they could put out a small fire within a quarter of a day. You know, give them three or four hours of daylight, and they could take care of a problem that could later have turned into something you might have needed a thousand men on.

NARRATOR: Dropping from Ford Trimotors and DC-3s, with parachutes and pulaskis, the smokejumpers joined the fire war. The goal was to kill every fire within 24 hours—the "10 A.M. Rule."

JOHN N. MACLEAN: They decided that they were good enough by then that by 10 o'clock on the morning after a fire was reported they should have it out. And if they didn't have it out then, it would be out by 10 a.m. the next day. If there was smoke there was fire, and if there was fire then you went and put it out. And the decision on Mann Gulch was just as swift as that.

NARRATOR: Mann Gulch in central Montana, a canyon that empties into the Missouri River, flanked by two steep ridges. On August 5th, 1949, a small fire was sighted on the south ridge. At the base in Missoula calls went out for jumpers. It was Eldon Diettert's 19th birthday. He was just sitting down to dinner with his parents when the phone rang. Walt Rumsey and 17-year old Robert Sallee were new jumpers. It was their first day on the job.

ROBERT SALLEE (Smokejumper): Lightning storm came down through the region and started a lot of fires and they called us in. When I got to Missoula, we actually arrived and jumped the same day.

DAVID TURNER (U.S.D.A. Forest Service): For many of them, this is their first year of smoke jumping. And there are very few of them that know the crew leader, the boss of this crew, Wagner "Wag" Dodge. Wag is a very experienced hand, he's been jumping for eight years, been working for the Forest Service for a dozen years at that point.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: I think he was a very creative guy with a little touch of the poet, and he covered that up with a silence that was customary among men in those days.

NARRATOR: Dodge's creativity and his silence would have profound consequences on this fire. The jumpers landed at the head of the gulch, about a mile in from the river.

DAVID TURNER: They're going to get something to eat. They're going to attack the fire, they'll be on it all night and it's kind of a mop-up.

NARRATOR: Dodge went to check the fire. He didn't like what he saw. This was no mop-up. The fire was burning furiously in an explosive mixture of thick pine.

ROBERT SALLEE: And we hadn't gone any more than a hundred or two hundred yards, something like that, and we met Dodge coming back down, and he said, "This thick reproduction is a death trap, we better get out of here."

NARRATOR: Dodge led the crew across the gulch, heading for the safety of the river. The fire was out of their line of sight. They had no way of knowing it had suddenly jumped across to their side of the canyon. Their escape to the river was cut off.

DAVID TURNER: When he crests that hill and looks down below him, he sees that the fire's now burning very vigorously below them and, much worse, right directly at his crew.

NARRATOR: Dodge reversed the crew and told them to run. They were now in a race for their lives. Then the fire hit grass, baked bone dry by weeks of summer heat, and began closing in. It was only 150 yards away, racing towards them up the brutally steep canyon. The physics of slope and wind and fire were now converging on the crew in a terrifying equation: people move slower uphill, fires move faster. Because heat rises, a fire burning on level ground spreads three times as fast when it reaches a 25 percent slope and nine times as fast on a 50 percent slope. Slopes at Mann Gulch are 76 percent.

STEVE PYNE: Now, you see, everything is working in its favor. The radiant heat is getting ahead. Convective heat is getting there. You're creating a draft, which is driving it up. This is a very dangerous place to be and you're not're going to have a very hard time outrunning a fire in light fuels that is going to burn up-slope.

ROBERT SALLEE: By that time the fire was right behind us. It sounded like a freight train or a jet airplane. It was a tremendous roar.

NARRATOR: With the fire only 50 yards away Dodge realized they'd lost the race.

DAVID TURNER: Wag reaches into his pocket, pulls out some paper matches, and again, without saying anything to the crew, lights the grass on fire.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: The men who were with him thought that the boss had gone nuts. You know, "What's he doing? We've already got enough fire behind us, we don't need another one in front of us."

NARRATOR: What he was doing was lighting an escape fire to burn off fuel in front of the main fire and create a safety zone of black.

DAVID TURNER: Dodge's escape fire burns off no more than a 10 by 10 foot square area, and he turns to the guys, who are momentarily frozen on the hillside, and says, "Up this way. Up this way."

The crew is really confused about this. They don't know what he means, "up this way."

ROBERT SALLEE: I personally didn't have a clue as to what he was doing. In fact, I thought maybe that he'd lost it, because it didn't make sense to me.

NARRATOR: Baffled by Dodge's tactic, most of the crew kept racing across the slope. Sallee, Rumsey and Diettert changed course, running straight up, using Dodge's fire as a guide.

ROBERT SALLEE: And his fire immediately started burning straight up the ridge. And so I just fell in alongside it and followed it up the hill.

DAVID TURNER: They pound up this thing. When they get up here close to the ridge top they've almost made it to safety, but they encounter this rock wall. Bob Sallee and Walt Rumsey turn to the left.

ROBERT SALLEE: I was praying, and all of a sudden the smoke lifted a little bit and here was a big cleft in the rocks. So I jumped in there and waited for Rumsey to come, and Diettert disappeared.

NARRATOR: Looking down at the burning slope, Bob Sallee finally understood the true purpose of Wag Dodge's escape fire.

ROBERT SALLEE: After we got on the top of the ridge and I looked back and I saw him go into his fire, then I realized that he's burned off some ground and he's going to get in there for protection.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: Dodge cleared out a place in the ashes very quickly with his hands and lay down. When the fire passed over him it literally lifted him off the ground and held him off the ground.

NARRATOR: Thirty seconds after passing over Dodge the fire began dropping the runners one by one. One firefighter's watch recorded the moment of his death. Today, crosses mark the spot where each man lost his race. On top of the ridge, where Sallee and Rumsey went left, Eldon Diettert chose right and found no opening in the rocks. He died less than six hours after his interrupted birthday dinner. Dodge, Rumsey and Sallee were the only survivors.

ROBERT SALLEE: You know, I, I'm not the kind of a person that can tell you how it feels to look death in the face. You know, it's a terrible thing. You just feel awful.

NARRATOR: In their grief and sadness some of the families claimed it was Dodge's escape fire that killed their sons. The physical evidence suggests his fire could have saved them.

DAVID TURNER: The fact that that escape fire worked for him also saved these trees that are up here in the ridgeline. These are trees that were here in 1949 that owe their existence to the fact that Dodge's fire burned out the fuel around them, and when the main fire came up the hillside it swept around his fire and these trees and they survived the fire.

NARRATOR: A Forest Service investigation cleared Dodge, but did not explain the peculiar behavior of his escape fire. The survivors testified that 40-mile-an-hour winds off the river were driving the main fire sideways, along the canyon walls. Yet Dodge's escape fire ran in a totally different direction, up the hill. How could two fires only yards apart behave so differently? It took modern computer modeling to unravel this mystery. As heat from the main fire rose, the updraft sucked cooler air into its base, creating a wind in the opposite direction. With the opposing winds neutralizing each other, Dodge's fire simply followed the contour of the hill, leading Sallee and Rumsey up to salvation.

ROBERT SALLEE: I think Wag did everything that he could to protect us. If there's any mistakes in the whole thing, the mistake was in not training people about backfires. And if they had, they would've all been saved.

NARRATOR: Bob Sallee fought fires for a year more, then moved on. Walt Rumsey also quit firefighting. Wag Dodge could never bring himself to jump again. Mann Gulch in 1949 was the first time smokejumpers had died by fire. In years to come, more firefighters would fall.

And the lives lost were not the only costs of America's war on fire. The policy of fire suppression was beginning to have unexpected consequences. Ever so slowly, the American West was changing. Without fire, open park-like forests were filling in, becoming choked with new growth.

CRAIG D. ALLEN: This is a ponderosa pine forest that has been protected from fire for a hundred years and is now in a very unnatural condition because of that. This is sort of a classic dog-hair thicket. It used to have about 40 mature stems per acre in an open-grown stand condition. It's now got over 2,000 stems per acre here, and it's because it has been without fire for a century.

NARRATOR: In the era of 100 percent suppression foresters did not see this as a problem. They still believed suppression was best for people and the environment, not understanding that they were actually harming the natural resources they were trying to protect.

To change their thinking, it took a crisis in one of the most spectacular landscapes in America, the majestic groves of the giant sequoia. From their earliest discovery the "Big Trees" were recognized as a unique treasure. By the turn of the century, much of the sequoia forest had been set aside in national parks.

WILLIAM TWEED (Sequoia National Park): In the early days a lot of things were done in national parks that would certainly not be done today. Here in the Giant Forest of Sequoia National Park we cut ramps on top of trees so people could drive their cars on top of them and get a picture. We built campgrounds in the sequoia groves. We liked deer, so we shot mountain lions—something we'd never do today. But the most fundamental thing we did in this forest was we suppressed fire. We liked green. We liked cool. We liked pretty. Fire was ugly. Fire was perceived as dangerous. So we began a policy of total fire suppression in our sequoia groves. We got better and better at putting out fires.

NARRATOR: By the early 1960s there had been no big fires in the groves for decades. Then Park managers realized they had a problem: there were many new trees but no new sequoias.

WILLIAM TWEED: It happened so slowly, it had almost been missed. And when we looked at the pictures one century to the next, it suddenly stood out like a sore thumb. We'd done something drastic to our forest. The Big Trees were still there and they kept growing. But the new generation was missing. And what was there instead was a new generation of thick pine and fir and cedar, filling in the forest, shading it and precluding the sun-loving sequoias from ever having a chance to sprout and grow.

Once we realized that we had changed our forest by removing fire, the question came to us, "How do we put fire back in?" I mean, our first attempts at managing this enemy were done with enormous caution. We went into our experimental forest in the 1960s. We'd take an acre or two. We'd cut a fireline around it, bring in fire trucks, almost surround it by firemen, and very cautiously and very hesitantly light a little corner and see what would happen.

NARRATOR: The fires burned away years of litter covering the forest floor, exposing the bare mineral soil that sequoia seeds need for germination. Sequoias also need light, and the flames thinned out the thick overgrowth, letting sunshine once again wash over the exposed soil. The next year, for the first time in decades, there were baby sequoias.

WILLIAM TWEED: So a whole bunch of very fundamental things here are fire-driven, and all of those processes had been lost during the century of fire suppression.

NARRATOR: Setting controlled fires in the sequoia groves, prescribed burning, seemed full of promise.

STEVE PYNE: Well, prescribed burning appears in the 1960s and it seems almost revolutionary. But in fact it's simply going back to the way it had always been. Fire setting and fire suppressing had gone together, fire lighting and fire fighting. They had always been complimentary things.

NARRATOR: The Park Service began regular burns in the sequoia groves and the Big Trees were revitalized. But around the country foresters were still not convinced. They had been trained, all of them, in suppression, and prescribed burning went against everything they had learned. Even in Sequoia there was resistance. Visitors saw scarred and blackened trees, and many of them felt sure prescribed fires were ruining the forest.

JOHN F. ELLIOTT (Sequoia Area Newspaper Publisher): When I come to Giant Forest I don't want to see a scene of desolation like this. Now I'm being told that 100 years from now this will be in better shape and will be a renewed area and will be fine. But in the meantime we have several generations that have to come and deal with this death and destruction. I don't think it's worth the cost.

WILLIAM TWEED: People expect natural landscapes to be enduring and unchanging, and that's almost never true. Sooner or later this is all going to burn. It's either going to burn during an event that we try to control or it's going to burn on its own terms, on the hottest, driest, windiest day, in a far more destructive cycle. It's important that people realize that the choice is not between prescribed fire and no fire, the choice ultimately is between prescribed fire and wildfire.

NARRATOR: Over the next two decades, the lessons of Sequoia slowly took hold. Firefighters abandoned the goal of 100 percent suppression and in some places began to set prescribed fires. They let some wildfires burn until they died out on their own, a new policy called "prescribed natural fire" or "let burn." But in another of America's most beloved national parks the "let burn" approach would be put to a terrible test.

Yellowstone Park: the summer of 1988 was the driest on record, and by early July a half-dozen fires were burning. At first they were allowed to burn naturally. But within weeks, over 8,000 acres were charred and park officials began to worry. The "let burn" policy was suspended.

It was too late. Major fires, christened with ominous names like "Hellroaring" and "Storm Creek," started outside the park and moved in. High winds drove embers as far as a mile and a half, starting new fires. Flames threatened the historic lodges and even the ground under Old Faithful. The fires defied all efforts at control, joining together into huge flaming fronts. Thousands of firefighters were deployed, two battalions of Marines. And millions of dollars were spent in essentially useless efforts to control the fires. Only the snows of late October finally ended the danger—after 1.4 million acres burned in and around the park.

BRUCE BABBITT: The politicians immediately blamed everybody in sight, and the superintendent up at Yellowstone, to his great eternal credit, said, "Folks, relax. This is a natural event." And lo and behold, two, three, four years later he was proven right. All of a sudden, the slopes are greening with new lodgepole pines. The lupin and the summer flowers are blooming, and the place is just sort of miraculously coming back.

NARRATOR: But to many the destruction was too widespread, too long term. A national treasure had been horribly damaged, and more conflagrations seemed inevitable. After more than a half-century of suppression other forests throughout the country were overgrown and primed for disaster.

WILLIAM ARMSTRONG: And so what you have got now is a carpet of dead and dying victims of this crowding. Not only enormous quantities of fuel on the ground, but we have an arrangement of fuels that lead to explosive fire. Now what we're finding is when the fires burn and burn with these intensities, what's happening is it's burning everything. And what you're ending up with is a parking lot. It's burning it right down to this bare mineral soil and baking it. These are the kinds of fires that kill people, that burn up towns, entire communities, and there's absolutely nothing we can do but stand there and watch them until the weather changes or until it runs out of fuel.

NORMAN L. CHRISTENSEN: Fire managers have a complex job. At one end of the spectrum of fire behavior we can manage fire effectively and artfully. At the other end of the spectrum of fuel complexity and quantity we have no more control over fire burning in a lodgepole pine forest than we do managing an ice storm. And there's no particular place where we can say, "Well, these are the fires we can control, or these are the fires we can prescribe, and these are the fires we can't." There's no threshold.

NARRATOR: What remains is a paradox: our efforts to control fire have actually made conditions worse, setting the stage for larger, more catastrophic wildfires than ever before.

STEVE PYNE: It's a huge mess that is out there. It's going to cost an enormous amount of money. We can spend a billion dollars now and it doesn't seem to make a terrific amount of difference. We've reduced our whole relationship to fire to one thing: as a firefight. And we're trying to fight fire as though it were a war and, uh, it's probably not going to work much better than the war on drugs.

NARRATOR: Halfway through the summer of 2000, the war has cost a half billion dollars. Fifty-eight thousand fires have already burned. Twenty thousand firefighters are on the lines. This is fast becoming the most destructive season in decades.

BRUCE BABBITT: The incredible thing about fire seasons is that you, you simply never know. There were a number of indicators, but no one, in the spring, can predict the intensity of the upcoming fire season. And it really wasn't clear until, um, I would say late July that we were in for, you know, the fire summer from hell.

NARRATOR: The toughest fire in this fire summer from hell is Clear Creek in Idaho, now 50,000 acres.

BILL BRYANT (Operations Chief): About from here on up to Delta is going to be critical today.

NARRATOR: Here at the morning briefing, the mood is somber. A federal Incident Command team has been assigned. Joe Carvelho, a 35-year-veteran firefighter, is now leading the battle.

JOE CARVELHO (Incident Commander): If you equate it to an army I'd be the general. I'd be the field general out there that's saying, "Okay, we need to be looking at what tactics, what strategies."

NARRATOR: Tactics and strategies shift daily, even hourly, depending on the current threat. For the moment, Carvelho is keeping the Arrowheads up on Division X in the fire's northeast corner. They and the other crews here have been putting in long days of hard work and "spiking out," sleeping in the field so they can wake, eat and start again. Brit Rosso and the other crew leaders are concerned that high winds are coming which could push the flames past their fireline.

As hard as they work, this huge, sprawling fire is still not contained. It's creeping down the hills in long, smoldering "fingers." The Arrowheads were trying to cut firebreaks around each finger but it was taking too long. Now they're going from "fingertip" to "fingertip," but this leaves unburned fuel. So they'll try another tactic: a backfire from the line to the wildfire to deprive it of fuel. Foreman Mike Boomer will set the burn.

STEVE PYNE: Basically, you fight the fire with fire. You pull off to some area that you know you can defend—a road, a lake, whatever, something, something that won't burn—and you set off your own fires. They're called backfires or counter fires. And you try to clean out, in effect widen that firebreak by burning away all the combustibles before the main fire can arrive.

MIKE BOOMER (Arrowhead Hotshot Foreman): It's going a little ways. I think if it has any kind of little breeze it is enough, I think.

NARRATOR: Working in between the "fingers," there's always the possibility of being cut off if the fire flares up. So Boomer stays in constant radio contact.

MIKE BOOMER: ...yeah, I was thinking of one more strip here.

BRIT ROSSO: I copy that.

STEVE PYNE: And it's a very tricky operation because usually the fire is coming at you with a wind behind it, you're trying to burn against the wind. All the conditions, say, favor the other fire not yours, but, but you really don't have any other options.

BRIT ROSSO: Okay, so it sounds like everything is either on the line or interior.


NARRATOR: Boomer's backfire works. It will help the Arrowheads hold the Clear Creek fire here on their portion of the line. But other parts of Clear Creek are still far from being contained.

Further south, on Divisions D and E, the fire has been burning fiercely and could easily get away. If it reaches the Panther Creek corridor, only a thin trickle of water stands in its way. After that, there's nothing for miles to stop this fire. The command team decides to try a massive backfire, two thousand acres, to keep the fire away from the creek.

MIKE WALLACE (Operations Chief): This fire is a very large fire because of long range spotting. These fuel types, as dry as they are, they get very hot and, uh, loft embers a very long distance that catch things on fire.

NARRATOR: They're counting on this backfire to work—the forecast calls for high winds in the next few days.

MIKE WALLACE: If it does cross the corridor it would be very difficult to stop, uh, without burning a lot of country.

NARRATOR: It's a risky operation. Trees and brush are tinder dry and piled up thick on the land.

MIKE WALLACE: It's doing exactly what we expected it to do. We're lighting up around the corner ahead into the fire. We still don't know that, uh, we've actually stopped the fire. Uh, we'll find out tomorrow and see if we can hold it.

NARRATOR: In the morning the news is not good. The backfire set last night is slopping over, throwing flaming materials across Panther Creek and starting new smaller fires. Carvelho and his team need to move crews and resources into position as quickly as possible.

JOE CARVELHO: The grim facts that we have a slop-over and that, ah, it didn't look real good for us. It's disheartening, and you can look at all you guys' faces and see that. As far as, as looking into the future, this activity's probably going to increase, I would think.

FRED HOUSTON (Logistics Chief): We're stretching this.

MIKE WALLACE: We're maybe just two or three or four crews short. As it was, the 'shot crews that were in there today had two hours sleep last night 'cause they worked all night, so...

JOE CARVELHO: Maybe we could get some aircraft up there?

MIKE WALLACE: If we could get fixed wing up, I think it would help us up on that ridge.

TONY DIETZ (Safety Officer): And has the National Guard been activated?

JOE CARVELHO: Well, there's a lot of fires going on in California, Tony, and so we're probably not going to see the military for a while. We're, we're just going to have to suck it up and say hey. We've been telling people for years that this could happen. And guess what? The year is here to have all of this go off at one time and to have major shortages. I want you to do one thing for me, though. I don't care if this fire goes to a million acres just as long as we remember who those crews are out there and we take care of them from a safety perspective.

NARRATOR: Joe Carvelho knows, as bad as this season has been, no one has died on the fireline. He wants to keep it that way. For all veteran firefighters this preoccupation with safety is tied to one place, one year: Storm King Mountain, 1994.

The fire began when a lightning bolt hit a tree near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It moved slowly at first, consuming only about 50 acres. Late on the third day smokejumpers from Montana were assigned, including Eric Hipke.

ERIC HIPKE (Smokejumper): Once we got there what we saw was that the leaves and the twigs under the oak brush were burning. A lot of us were very, kind of, apprehensive about it, 'cause we were looking at the brush and it kept getting taller around us. It was just so big and it had been burning for days, obviously. Just wasn't a good feeling.

NARRATOR: The smokejumpers radioed for reinforcements. The next day the Prineville Hotshots arrived. An elite crew like the Arrowheads, the Prinevilles were just coming off a job in their home state of Oregon. Foreman Bryan Scholz didn't like what he saw.

BRYAN SCHOLZ (Foreman, Prineville Hotshots): I was concerned that I couldn't see the bottom of the fire. You want to know what a fire's doing, you look at the topography, you look at, uh, the weather and you look at the fuels. What's growing there? What kind of a condition is it in? How available is it to burn?

JOHN N. MACLEAN: And he wound up taking a couple of jugs of water down towards the half of the crew on the West Flank line.

NARRATOR: On the West Flank Line were Eric Hipke's smokejumpers and about half of Bryan Scholz's Prineville Hotshots. In all, there were 49 people on Storm King Mountain that hot afternoon.

BRYAN SCHOLZ: Nothing that I saw made me feel good. As this fire had backed down under this, this vegetation, it really had consumed, um, very little of it. What that means is that there is unburned fuel between you and your fire. From what I could see there was no good safety zone. I got maybe a third of the way down the fire line with these water jugs and I bumped into Roger Roth, a smokejumper. He was wrestling with a burning log. He was trying to keep it from rolling over the fire line. Set down my jugs of water, and, uh, we wrestled a bit with this thing and got her laid up on the hillside. And I was going to continue on down the fireline with this water, and he said that, uh, thanks but, but he could handle it from there. Subconsciously there was a little voice telling me I needed to go back up.

NARRATOR: Sixty miles away, forecaster Chris Cuoco was watching the weather—and the approach of a tragedy.

CHRISTOPHER CUOCO: The winds shifted all of a sudden, hit the shack that I was in, shook the entire building. And I realized within a few minutes, I realized it's going to hit this way everywhere in Western Colorado and there were some 2,000 firefighters spread throughout all of these hills. And I knew that I had to get a warning out to as many of them as I could. This front's going to hit. It's going to hit out of nowhere, and unless they're ready for it and out of the way, these firefighters are going to be in danger.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: And so he called the Dispatch office of the B.L.M.'s, uh, Grand Junction office and told them that, and got the reaction there that, "Gee, that's really important; we'll get that out on the radio." Well, it never went out on the radio. Something happened, it got dropped on the floor, somebody got busy and forgot about it, and it never made it to the mountain.

ERIC HIPKE: Roger Roth walked up, bringing us water. Right when he walked up we looked behind us. Those huge winds were coming and it was bringing the fire towards us.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: And everybody realizes in that moment that they're in terrible trouble because they've got fire below them on a mountain. It looks like it's a blowup. It's really churning. The people who are farthest ahead get on the radio and say, "We've got fire on both sides of the gulch. It's roaring and we're getting out of here."

NARRATOR: These eight firefighters climbed straight up to a safety zone and took out their fire shelters, thin aluminum tents that deflect the heat, a firefighter's last resort. On the West Flank line another group had no nearby safety zone, what firefighters call "good black." In violation of Standard Fire Orders the closest safety was dangerously far away, a tough quarter-mile hike uphill.

ERIC HIPKE: And I looked down there, I could see on the other side that the fire was just whipping and curling and it was moving. People were just going, "Jesus, let's get, get going, get going!"

NARRATOR: As the fire closed in, twenty more firefighters, including Bryan Scholz and the rest of the Prineville Hotshots, were racing along the ridge.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: Where they are, there's no way to go but just right along the ridge top. And behind them the flames are getting higher and higher.

BRYAN SCHOLZ: A hundred yards away you could hear gas jugs that we carry with us for chain saws exploding and, and I look back and I see, uh, um, one fellow still on the ridge top and it looks like a, uh, a surfer in a curl.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: Bryan Scholz realizes what's going on and he gives the well-known order, "Reverse and move." Three words. Everybody knows what this one means. You don't sit here and kumbaya at this point. You do it. So everybody turns around and starts to move back north.

NARRATOR: Caught inside the fire, in their blackened safety zone, eight firefighters still huddled in shelters. A holocaust of noise, heat and wind surrounded them. When the flames came too close they radioed for help. Finally, a tanker managed to drop retardant on them. But they were still trapped as temperatures rose and rose.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: Twelve people on the West Flank line have turned around and are now retreating uphill in a bunch. Everything is carrying the fire faster up the hill, and the crew, of course, is having to slow down.

ERIC HIPKE: I just had one thing on my mind at that point, was just, "Get out, get out." And it kept getting hotter, so hot I couldn't stand it anymore.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: He's burning. You know this isn't supposed to happen. You know it never happens to you, but my God.

ERIC HIPKE: And I just found myself lurching forward, yelling.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: And it was that scream that saved his life. If he had been inhaling instead of exhaling, the fire would've have killed him right there. All that fire glances off and he makes it across the last few steps. On the ridge top people are breaking down into twos and threes. It's close to panic. People are screaming. There are ashes and embers flowing around them.

NARRATOR: In desperation the firefighters began peeling off down the East Canyon.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: It's a nightmare. What's to stop the fire from jumping over the ridge top and getting down there? There actually are little spot fires that are beginning down in the East Canyon, and they get down in these little gullies and the gullies go nowhere.

BRYAN SCHOLZ: I did not think I would get out of there.

NARRATOR: Two of the group ran up the mountain, hoping to reach a high spot where the helicopter could save them. Within minutes the fire knocked them flat and tore the shelters out of their hands.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: When you take in a gulp of flame your air passages react to the insult by contracting. You lose the instinct to breathe, you no longer have the, uh, the need to breathe, the physical need. That happened in all cases, uh, on Storm King.

NARRATOR: Two hours after they took shelter the eight firefighters in the black emerged. They had survived. So did Bryan Scholz and all the firefighters who made it into the East Canyon.

ERIC HIPKE: When I woke up I was all bandaged up. It was three o'clock in the morning. I had this morphine drip going in and one guy off the Prineville crew came in and kept trying to...he asked me, "Well, what happened?" And I was telling him, "Oh, they got every, everybody got out. You know it? It was great. Everybody got out." And he's going, "No, people died up there."

NARRATOR: All the rest of Eric Hipke's group died. Three other smokejumpers, nine Prineville Hotshots. One was only 120 feet from the ridge top and safety. Fourteen men and women died that afternoon, all in the first 25 minutes of blowup, all experienced elite firefighters. There would be five more days of burning, 2000 more acres blackened before the fire was stopped. The investigation afterwards found mistakes, poor choice of safety zones by the firefighters, bad management by the command team.

No one ever answered the question of why Chris Cuoco's warning failed to reach the firefighters on the hill.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: If the people on the mountain had gotten a call from Dispatch saying, "Look, we've got an urgent update here. In the afternoon this thing is really going to go bad on you in a hurry. You're not going to have any warning," they probably would have done what people in other districts who got that warning did. They pulled back off their fires. They got to someplace where it was safe, and then they watched the wind blow the fire up, uh, and nobody got hurt.

CHRISTOPHER CUOCO: Our weather forecasts are important. Our warnings are important. People's lives are at stake.

BRYAN SCHOLZ: If Roger Roth hadn't have been there to take that water from me, I wouldn't be here.

NARRATOR: Roger Roth, the smokejumper that Bryan Scholz met, one of the 14 fatalities on Storm King Mountain, had been an Arrowhead Hotshot.

BRIT ROSSO: It seems like it was just yesterday, what happened. I know the exact time, date and location when my friend lost his life on that fire. It's pretty tough, you just know that you lost one of your friends, doing exactly what you're doing.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: The lessons are in the hearts and the minds of firefighters, the ones that they have taken to themselves and put into practice, not because somebody told them to do it but because they understand that this is what you have to do to be safe out there. It's a very simple lesson, which is, "There are times you pull back. There are times you just say no. If you don't know where your safety zones are, if you don't know where your escape routes are, you speak up. If you're a supervisor on a fire and you know it's going to be a windy afternoon and you don't have a handle on this fire, you get your people out of there." And that happened this summer over and over and over again, and that didn't use to happen.

NARRATOR: One of the places it happened was on the Clear Creek fire.

KENDRA MAYES (Dispatcher): Clear Creek I.C.P...Division Delta...a medical emergency.

NARRATOR: The crisis began with a call to the Incident Command Post, the I.C.P.

MAN ON RADIO: We have a medical emergency. Prepare to copy.

KENDRA MAYES: Read you loud and clear. Go.

MAN ON RADIO: We have a firefighter injured on Division Echo, hit by a falling snag.

NARRATOR: A snag, or half-burned tree, has fallen onto a firefighter.

MAN ON RADIO: We need a line paramedic with A.L.S. equipment.

NARRATOR: The injury looks so severe, the call is for "A.L.S.," Advanced Life Support.

KENDRA MAYES: We'll get a line E.M.T. en route.

MAN ON RADIO: Negative, Clear Creek—line-qualified paramedic with A.L.S. equipment.

GLEN BEE (Medical Unit leader): If they can get a helicopter in there we'll do it that way.

KENDRA MAYES: Can we get a medivac airlift in there?

MAN ON RADIO: That's negative. The country's not going to work for that. We're going to scout for a helispot for evacuation.

GLEN BEE: Can they shut that road off so nobody's going down towards that?

KENDRA MAYES: Please give evaluation back to I.C.P.

MAN ON RADIO: Uh, patient has puncture wounds in the back, a lot of pain, and possible cervical injuries.

KENDRA MAYES: Puncture wounds to the back...standby.

GLEN BEE: If we can get some vitals? Respiratory rate, pulse, that kind of stuff.

PARAMEDIC: If they can get close there's probably a car or vehicle.

GLEN BEE: Okay, tell them we want to know the closest helispot, because we're ready to launch that chopper.

PARAMEDIC: We're ready. We're ready to launch right now.

GLEN BEE: Okay...stand by...all right.

NARRATOR: The medic will fly in as close as possible and hope the injured firefighter can be carried to him.

JOE CARVELHO: They said they were going to bring him down on the backboard and bring him down to the road. We sent a helicopter down there already to look for a spot.

NARRATOR: Now the winds pick up and the fire begins to run. It's crowning, pushed into wild, dangerous behavior. Carvelho is dealing with a medical emergency and a blowup.

JOE CARVELHO: Can you give me a little rundown on what's going on out there on the fire?

BILLY (In Helicopter): We're getting some really strong down-canyon winds. The creek itself is fully engulfed where we're at.

JOE CARVELHO: Okay, let's get the folks, uh, in safe locations and, uh, and if the fire goes, it goes.

NARRATOR: Carvelho orders everyone to safety zones. This is the legacy of Storm King Mountain at work.

FIREFIGHTER 1: They really want us to move.

FIREFIGHTER 2: We may not be back in here for a little while. You may have to hunker down there for the evening.

JOE CARVELHO: Hey, Billy? Uh, what I want you to do in the helicopter is, I want you to get a roll call and make sure you got every single person accounted for.

NARRATOR: There are a thousand people working on Clear Creek and hundreds are in the fire's path.

The injured man still has to be carried across a sixty-foot river to reach the helicopter.

KENDRA MAYES: Firefighter is coherent, skin normal.

GLEN BEE: I'll try to speak up, there's a lot going on here.

MAN ON RADIO: We are bringing him down on a backboard with cervical collar.

KIM MARTIN (Deputy Incident Commander): Let's get ready to write this down.


BILLY (In Helicopter): I just got off the phone with Kim. Fish Lake and another crew moved up canyon into a safe area. They were with Mortenson.

JOE CARVELHO: I haven't heard anything from Sierra Hotshots. Have you had contact with them?

SIERRA HOTSHOT: Everybody here is safe. We've got a big safety zone. We're just kind of hunkering down and waiting for things to cool down.

JOE CARVELHO: Thank you, sir. We're okay.

NARRATOR: Finally, Joe Carvelho knows that all his crews are safe.

TONY DIETZ: I guess.

JOE CARVELHO: No, we're fine.

NARRATOR: The injured firefighter is rescued, carried through the charred landscape by his Hotshot crewmates.

GLEN BEE: He's possibly got pelvic problems, but he's out. It makes you feel good, doesn't it?

NARRATOR: But the fire has increased by more than half, to 82,000 acres. After three weeks Clear Creek is once again the largest fire in the United States.

JOE CARVELHO: Of course, at times it gets frustrating. But right now we think we can still get this thing right where it's at. So, ah, we're hoping we don't have to wait 'til winter for know, to get this thing taken care of. If we don't, then we know that Mother Nature is still in control.

NARRATOR: For now, there's no end in sight. Thousands of firefighters will keep working this fire. But only a few days later many of the elite crews have to leave. There are strict rules about how long a firefighter can work, and they've worked their maximum, 21 days. For the Arrowheads, it's unsettling to leave with the Clear Creek fire still raging.

JON JONES: Normally we have a closure when we leave the fire. Everything's kind of wrapping up and you have a sense of accomplishing something. And with that fire it was just never ending. You never saw an end in sight. And we watched it get bigger and bigger, and it's not a very good feeling.

NARRATOR: So far, in the year 2000, fires have consumed almost three million acres, a million more than an average season. They've burned down hundreds of buildings and forced tens of thousands of people to evacuate. More and more Americans are building homes near wilderness areas. Few are prepared to share their property with fire.

NEIL SAMPSON: Most of the time those of us that move out into the countryside don't realize we're in a fire environment because we've never seen a fire there. Fires have been suppressed there for a very, very long time. There's not a person out there that has a memory of a large fire. So in everybody's mind, this is not a fire environment. It hasn't burned.

STEVE PYNE: What we've done is take sort of the two extreme values of American environmentalism, the city and the wild. We're ramming them together and it's sort of matter and anti-matter collision, and, uh, we shouldn't be surprised that it's exploding.

NARRATOR: Even in an environment where wildfire is natural and inevitable, homeowners still expect the government to protect them at almost any cost. One way to do this is regular prescribed burning. But prescribed fires are risky, too, as Los Alamos learned earlier this year. And there's another downside to prescribed fire, smoke.

NEIL SAMPSON: If we use a lot of fire, we may discomfort an awful lot of people, because the smoke and the air pollution is a real problem. So, it's not, uh, a harmless situation. It may be natural, but it's not harmless.

NARRATOR: Time and again, communities limit prescribed burning because of smoke, leaving themselves more vulnerable to wildfire.

WOMAN AT BUS STOP : The most traumatic was having a policeman come to my door and say, pack up your things, decide what you think is important and get ready to leave. The fire came racing down the mountain. I've heard firefighters say that they've fought fires for 25 years and they've never seen a fire race down a mountain like that. It's so dry.

SECOND WOMAN AT BUS STOP: You know, the Lord just might be saying, "Hey guys, shape up your act. It's going to happen. What I said was going to happen is going to happen." And so I kind of think of this as a trial.

NARRATOR: Whether from prescribed fire or wildfire, there will be smoke. Here in the northern Rockies, only a few hours from Clear Creek, a dozen other big fires are burning. A thick, choking haze lies like a blanket over the region, so wide and dense it can be seen from space.

And smoke is more than an inconvenience for nearby residents. It's a key factor in global warming—how much so is one of the biggest questions in fire science today.

Alaska, the wilderness north of Fairbanks. Sixty-five scientists from around the world have come to this remote location for "Frostfire." Fifteen years in the planning, it's one of the largest fire experiments ever conducted in the United States.

DAVID V. SANDBERG (U.S.D.A. Forest Service Research): This is the boreal forest. This is a very common feature of, of the whole northern latitudes. This is a forest that's very much driven by the dynamics of fire.

NARRATOR: In preparation for the Frostfire experiment, sample plots have been laid out where every twig and pile of leaf litter is measured, every tree marked with a fire-resistant metal tag.

PHOTOGRAPHER: 28 millimeter, shot 21.

NOTE-TAKER: What? That should have been shot 22.

PHOTOGRAPHER: Yeah, shot 22. Sorry. Supposedly they're going to burn on Friday, so we want to make sure we get some photographs of the plots so we can look at them later and see what was lost and what kind of vegetation was in each plot.

NARRATOR: One purpose of Frostfire is to find out how forest fires contribute to global warming, the gradual increase in the earth's temperature that scientists have observed. So firefighters have cut eight miles of fireline around this entire valley and plan to burn all 2200 acres.

LAURA BIANCA (Firefighter): We're here to put in the saw line, the hose lay, fire it up, hold it. That's our main objective, is to hold this. I think it's going to be tough, but...

NARRATOR: Many scientists believe global warming is connected with the levels of carbon gasses in the air. Carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and methane, the "greenhouse" gasses, are released by burning fossil fuels and forests. All living things contain carbon, and one third of the earth's carbon is found in these northern forests—some in the trees, more frozen in the "permafrost," the icy subsoil.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: Permafrost exists in this environment with an average temperature of about one degree below freezing all year round. So it doesn't take much in terms of either warming the soil or removing this insulating layer of duff before that melts. And if that melts a tremendous change will happen here.

NARRATOR: If the permafrost melts, huge volumes of greenhouse gasses will be released. This could speed global warming, causing more forest fires. More fires would release still more gasses, fueling a dangerous spiral of climate change and fire.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: This is the layer that really counts. It's where the carbon is. It's where the insulation for the permafrost layer is. So we want a good severe burn that burns down into this duff and moss layer, but one that's controllable and manageable. We've been planning this thing for 10, 15 years. And this is the first chance that we've really seen a condition when we should really get the kind of burn that'll, that'll tell us something.

NARRATOR: Burn day: the scientists and the firefighters are ready.

DAVE DASH (Frostfire burn boss): This is the time for everybody to pay attention and to please follow instructions.

NARRATOR: Dave Dash is the burn boss on Frostfire, the man who decides if conditions are right for the experiment. He has to be sure the 100 firefighters on this burn can keep it under control, and he has to get the right kind of fire for the scientists.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: What do you think the winds are?

NARRATOR: Everything has to be perfect: wind, temperature, humidity.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: ...equals 72 percent humidity.

NARRATOR: If not, Frostfire could be postponed for another whole year.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: We're this close. It's closer than we've ever been, but we''s got to get 10 or 12 degrees warmer before we're in prescription.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: I.C.P., this is Gibbs with the weather.

I.C.P.: Go ahead.

FIREFIGHTER GIBBS: We have a dry bulb of 55, wet bulb of 50. Relative humidity is 72 percent.

DAVE DASH: Okay, let's do the burn.

MAN: Narrow your strip up a little bit between you and Emily.

VOICES: Spot! Spot!

LAURA BIANCA: Too much line.

DAVE DASH: We've been burning two hours, twenty minutes. It's smoky when the wind turns the wrong way, but we've been pretty lucky with the winds, so far. So...

DAVID V. SANDBERG: It's a little weak, but it's going to do the job for today. I think it is...

DAVE DASH: How far down to the bottom are you? Or how far from the bottom?

VOICE ON RADIO: Well, let me just swing around and tell you. It looks like the column is on...close to 6,000 or so...

DAVE DASH: I would think that through today they'd have enough, that they could get what they were looking for, but...

DAVID V. SANDBERG: It's going wonderful for us. We just got through burning in one of the key research areas and we've got several more to go. But at this point it's hard to go wrong.

NARRATOR: The day after the burn the scientists are hard at work, measuring the fire's severity and recording its effects.

BOB VIHNANEK (U.S.D.A. Forest Service Research): We have pins in the ground, can see one sticking up right here. Those were placed flush with the forest floor material before the burn, and so what is exposed is the area that's, that's burned.

DAVID V. SANDBERG: The bulk of the work is done by hand measurements of every component of the biomass system.

ROGER D. OTTMAR (U.S.D.A. Forest Service Research): ...seventy-two millimeters. It looks like it was a very high intensity burn, but for a very short duration period.

NARRATOR: The results show that this short burn has released 10 tons of potent greenhouse gasses. Multiply this by the thousands of wildfires that burn every year and the answer is frightening.

NEIL SAMPSON: I estimated that in the year 2000 with the fires that were in the 11 western states, that we may have released the equivalent of 75 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere through the carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and methane that was released. So this is a really, really difficult problem.

NARRATOR: Even worse, emissions from wildfires are only a fraction of those released by fossil fuels. And no one really knows how much might tip the earth into major climate change. Global warming has given new urgency to the search for solutions to the wildfire problem.

WILLIAM ARMSTRONG: The question that we're facing is, "How do we reintroduce fire into a veritable furnace, for heaven's sakes, with the amount of fuel and the amount of trees and so forth that have accumulated out here over the last hundred years?" My opinion is, as a forester and from my experience, I don't believe that you can utilize fire as your only tool. You got to have lots of different tools and they have to be used in a way that makes sense.

NARRATOR: Recently, Bill Armstrong tried a new approach in the ponderosa forests near Los Alamos, thinning and burning. He cut back the small trees and brush, hauled them away, and then did some light burning. This was an attempt to recreate conditions that existed before fires were suppressed, when less dense forests meant less intense fires. When the Cerro Grande fire roared through Los Alamos, Armstrong had a chance to see if the approach worked.

WILLIAM ARMSTRONG: What happened here was that, because the stem densities and the fuels were reduced, when the Cerro Grande fire came over the hill over there, rather than incinerating this area and burning through the crowns and leaving a blackened, denuded landscape, the fire dropped to the ground when it reached this area and behaved very similar to what it probably historically did and burned along through the ground, through the debris and needles on the ground. As you can see, none of these trees suffered any dire effects. They're all still green. In fact, they're probably better off with the fire coming through this area than if they hadn't been.

NARRATOR: In areas of the Southwest where thinning and burning have been tried it's been an ecological success. But thinning makes some environmentalists nervous. They see it as an opening for uncontrolled logging. And burning must be done carefully to make sure fires don't escape and to minimize smoke. It's time-consuming and labor-intensive.

JOHN N. MACLEAN: The government wants to treat 40 million acres of federal land, uh, over the next fifteen years. They figure about half of that, 20 million acres, uh, will burn naturally. The other 20 million acres they'll have to put time and money and energy into. This is sometimes uncomfortable for people in the area, but that's the way they're going.

NARRATOR: Many of these 40 million acres are in remote areas, and it will cost as much as $20 billion to treat them. But fighting wildfire is also expensive, well over a billion dollars a year.

NEIL SAMPSON: The idea of using prescribed fire is a little bit like "pay me now or pay me later." You're going to get some damage. You're going to get some smoke. We can spread the smoke throughout the year. If you don't do it, you're going to get a big fire and you're going to have the smoke all at once, the concentrations are going to be much worse, and the damages are going to be much worse. So it's...the problem is we're looking for a solution that is not perfect, but it's the least damaging.

NARRATOR: In a big fire season like the year 2000, the damage from uncontrolled wildfires is obvious. Over six million acres have burned across America, more than twice the average. In Idaho, the Clear Creek fire has been burning steadily for six weeks. After the second blowup, the fire continued to grow, every day a thousand or several thousand acres. It is still the largest fire in America, the most difficult to put out in a long, difficult season, and the Arrowhead Hotshots have been sent here for another tour of duty.

BRIT ROSSO: When we first got to Clear Creek, as you know, it was about 600 acres. When we left the first time, after 21 days, it was about 80,000. We came back the second time, it was over 200,000 acres and still burning.

MIKE RESSLER (Arrowhead Hotshots): When we left there the first time, it was such a huge mess, it's kind of like, "Okay, you guys, have fun with that fire. We're not coming back." To go back to it the second time, we knew what we were getting into and we just knew it was going to be a pain to put it out.

NOVA: Is this glamorous work?

MATT SNIDER: Oh, yeah.

MARK GERWE (Arrowhead Hotshots): We've got a good morale. I mean, we still have two more months of this, so you can't be tired yet. If you're tired now, then you're setting yourself up for problems.

NARRATOR: As the Arrowheads wrestle with this stubborn fire, there's one hopeful sign. The humidity is beginning to inch up. Finally, on August 31st, the weather breaks. The rain comes down hard for a while, then tapers off. It doesn't put out the fire, but it helps.

BRIT ROSSO: That did what we call, it "parked" it for a bit; it just kind of parked the fire place for a little bit and it gave the crews the ability to get back in there and start working the fire edge direct.

MIKE RESSLER: We were happy to be done with it when it rained and snowed, but you know, people were still on that fire for a month and a half afterwards. So we weren't counting Idaho out again.

NARRATOR: As the season moves into fall and then winter, most of the fires are contained. The cycle of fire begins to wind down for the year, giving everyone time to look back across the summer months, to consider why this year was so tough and what they can do better in the future.

NEIL SAMPSON: The fire season of 2000, I would characterize as an unusual event in our history, but one that's going to get much more usual in our future. There are 40 million acres at really high risk out there. We didn't reduce the inventory much. We only burned a little piece of it. And believe me, the next decade we're going to see many, many years like 2000, very possibly some that are quite worse.

NARRATOR: Where wildfire is concerned, there are no easy answers. Every approach has failed or created new problems. Yet there is no choice. We can no longer fight fire like a war, but we can't walk away from it either.

STEVE PYNE: There really is no neutral position for us. Once we seized the torch 100,000 years ago, a million years ago, whenever, once we seized that, uh, we lost the right to walk away from it. That was the responsibility that came with the power.

NARRATOR: Living close to America's wildlands and maintaining the landscapes we cherish means accepting that there will be fire. It means fighting fires, living with fires, even setting fires. It means finding a balance that so far has been elusive.

BRIT ROSSO: It looked like the season was basically over and now we are in Kentucky. It's been a very busy season. We put almost 22,000 miles on our crew trucks in less than six months.

NARRATOR: For the Arrowheads the year has one last fire, in November.

CHRIS LONG: This came as such a surprise. We thought it was an end of the season Halloween joke. We couldn't believe it.

MAYA ROCHELEAU: We just thought we'd pack up our gear the next week and go home. But you never know. That's what's cool about this job.

NARRATOR: The fire is an easy one, contained in just a few hours. Now for the Arrowheads, too, this year's fire wars are over.

BRIT ROSSO: The part that's difficult for me personally is to have what you think about as almost your family, your summer family, watching them grow and develop into more productive, efficient firefighters, and then the weather will come, the season ends, and then they're gone. And it's...that abrupt change is very difficult for me personally.

CHRIS LONG: It's been a long season but it's always nice to end the season on a good note.

BRIT ROSSO: It's a great end to the season. It's the best way to end the fire season is on a fire.

NARRATOR: On NOVA's Website, go behind the scenes with NOVA's film crew and find out what it took to capture this season of fire on film, on or America Online, Keyword PBS.

To order this show or any other NOVA program for $19.95 plus shipping and handling, call WGBH Boston Video, at 1-800-255-9424.

NOVA is a production of WGBH Boston.

Major funding for NOVA is provided by the Park Foundation, dedicated to education and quality television.

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The Wildfire Family Activity book, a companion to Fire Wars, is available free of charge. The book includes a family educational game and activities. To order, write WGBH, EPO/Wildfire, 125 Western Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, 02134.


Fire Wars

Directed by
Kirk Wolfinger

Written and produced by
Judith Vecchione
Rushmore DeNooyer

Narrated by
Stacy Keach

Senior Producer
Judith Vecchione

Edited by
Doug Quade

Associate Producers
Jennifer Black
Mika Holliday
Albert Lee

Director of Photography
Jon Else

Ed George
Sean Glenn
DJ Roller
Brett Wiley

Sound Recordists
John Haptas
Brian Buckley
Doug Dunderdale
Jim Gallup

Assistant Camera
Lincoln Else
Ulli Bonnekamp
Michael Chin
John Shenk

Sputnik Animation

Production Managers
Lori Beane
James Donald

Post Production Manager
James Luscombe

Post Production Coordinators
Michael Hofheimer
Corey Norman

Rushmore DeNooyer
Malcolm Brooks

Online Editor
Bernie Clayton

Mark Kueper

Audio Mix
Heart Punch Studio

Archival Research
Amy Campbell
Shelly Rogers

Production Assistants
Sara Clarkin
Bil Rogers
Matt Unger

Location Assistants
James Guardino
Nick Edgerley
Ernie Turner

John Stifanich
David Cox
Andrew Mortelitti

Fire tornado footage by
Montana Digital Video

Archival Material
Alan Austin
Boise National Forest
Bryan Baxter
Denver Public Library, Western History Collection
Historical Photograph Collection, University of Idaho Library
Idaho Public Television
Johnson Flying Service
The Missoulian
National Archives & Records Administration
National Interagency ire Center
National Park Service
National Smokejumper Association
North Wind Picture Archive
Peter Stackpole/TimePix
Sekani, Inc.
The Spokesman-Review
USDA Forest Service

Special Thanks
Media tour services provided by:
Olean Fire Department
Portville Fire Department
Smethport Fire Department
Weston Mills Fire Department
Jack Cohen
Tim Crissman
Ann Dunsky
Ellen Eberhardt
Connie Edwards & Sandy Wolfinger
Johann Goldammer
Paul Head
William Kaage
Jody Lyle
Sue Mitchell
Donald Smurthwaite
Brian Stocks
Wayne Williams

NOVA Series Graphics
National Ministry of Design

NOVA Theme
Mason Daring
Martin Brody
Michael Whalen

Post Production Online Editors
Spencer Gentry
Mark Steele

Closed Captioning
The Caption Center

Production Secretaries
Queene Coyne
Linda Callahan

Jonathan Renes
Diane Buxton
Katie Kemple

Senior Researcher
Ethan Herberman

Unit Managers
Holly Archibald
Sarah Goldman
Sharon Winsett

Nancy Marshall

Legal Counsel
Susan Rosen Shishko

Business Manager
Laurie Cahalane

Post Production Assistant
Patrick Carey

Associate Producer, Post Production
Nathan Gunner

Post Production Supervisor
Regina O'Toole

Post Production Editor
Rebecca Nieto

Supervising Producer
Lisa D'Angelo

Senior Science Editor
Evan Hadingham

Senior Series Producer
Melanie Wallace

Managing Director
Alan Ritsko

Executive Producer
Paula S. Apsell

A NOVA Production by Lone Wolf Pictures for WGBH/Boston.

© 2002 WGBH Educational Foundation

All rights reserved

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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