Fire Alarms

A short film documents how firefighters are feeling the burn of climate change.

July 27, 2015

Unacceptable Risk – Firefighters on the Front Lines of Climate Change from The Story Group on Vimeo.

The 2015 wildfire season is another doozy. Dozens of blazes are currently burning through millions of acres (and permafrost) in the United States and Canada. Just last week, a plume of lung-choking smoke stretched from Alaska to Texas, triggering dangerous respiratory conditions and plane delays in many states.

As drought and higher temperatures contribute to longer, more intense—and more expensive—fire seasons, the men and women who fight the flames are left gritting their teeth and hoping for the best.

Just listen to the harrowing tales Colorado firefighters tell in this short video, released as part of The Story Group’s series Americans on the Front Lines of Climate Change. Stories of firefighters watching their own homes burn and encountering fire whirls that stretch 70 feet into the air are enough to singe the hair off your brow.

“What they are seeing is scary, what they’re seeing is not what they’re used to at all. And that’s terrifying,” says Chris O’Brien, deputy chief of the Lefthand Fire Protection District in Boulder, Colorado. After battling blazes for 25 years, O’Brien explains how today’s wildfires behave much differently than they used to. The question looming throughout the 12-minute film is whether the fight to save structures built in increasingly dangerous places is worth risking lives.

We should fight climate change with the same intensity that we fight fires, suggests Don Whittmore, another veteran firefighter, whose 21-year-old daughter just joined a crew. “When I look at the changing fire landscape…I can’t tell her what she’s going to see because she’ll she stuff I’ll never see,” he says. “It scares the crap out of me.”

onEarth provides reporting and analysis about environmental science, policy, and culture. All opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the policies or positions of NRDC. Learn more or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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