Unacceptable Risk

The documentary “Unacceptable Risk: Firefighters on the Front Line of Climate Change” tells the powerful stories of four career firefighters who speak with incredible clarity about how climate change has altered the nature of wildfire – and firefighting – in the American West.

These firefighters talk about what it’s like to know that they, or their colleagues, could likely die; to see their own homes incinerated along with those of their neighbors; to be in charge of allocating equipment and having no more trucks or planes to send out.

One of the firefighters tells this story of being so very proud of his 21-year-old daughter, a newly minted firefighter, following in his footsteps. And of his enormous fear that, as these wildfires become bigger, hotter, faster, more unpredictable, one day his daughter might not walk away.

We’ve all seen the headlines – this 12-minute film by documentary filmakers The Story Group brings it home.

The wildfires around the West do more than threaten human life and wipe out the homes of people and of wildlife. They devastate rivers and downstream drinking water supply.

Following the Buffalo Creek and Hayman fires, Denver Water has spent more that $30 million on dredging fire debris from their Strontia Springs Reservoir. In the canyons and watersheds hit by big wildfire around the West, every big rainstorm brings another slug of slurry into the system.

The fires get bigger and more unpredictable. The firefighting costs get higher. More people lose their homes – or their lives. More forests are burned, more soil in watersheds gets so fried that its impermeable and nothing grows in it. Water – for drinking and for crops – gets more expensive to treat and reservoirs fill up with debris.

Do we keep walking down the same street and falling into the same hole, or are there some different paths to follow?

In our recent issue of Confluence, Anne Zimmermann, a 35 year USFS veteran, talks about three steps to take in the next few years that will help us walk down a new path. There are no quick solutions, but there are new choices we can make that will lead to long-term resiliency.

First, is to make peace with the landscape – the West will continue to burn and the old Smoky the Bear mindset won’t work anymore. Second, is to strengthen and deepen collaborations that include diverse participation. Third, is to account for the true benefits of a healthy forest.

As she says: Flagstaff didn’t just look at their forests and think, “This is land that’s not being used and is wasted. And look at the money we’re losing from the tax rolls and all that.” They said, “Wait a minute, natural infrastructure is as valuable, and more valuable, than the built infrastructure for our water supply.”

To which we add – let’s seize that day.

Kimery Wiltshire

Kimery Wiltshire
November 5 ,2015

Photo Credit: Jim Harris / Shutterstock.com



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