November 18, 2019  (Web Review)

Inside the Megafire

(2019) 60 min. DVD: $24.99 ($54.99 w/PPR). PBS Video. SDH captioned. ISBN: 978-1-5317-0917-4.

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

In November 2018, a fire erupted north of Sacramento, CA. Caused by sparking power lines, the conflagration was worsened by high winds as well as the fact that in 200 days there had been little or no rain in the area. Very quickly, it blew up, consuming an acre of forest every second. Although a fire had long been feared, the sudden ferocity caught residents by surprise. Filmmaker Miles O’Brien’s PBS-aired NOVA documentary covers the birth and spread of the megafire that destroyed the small rural town of Paradise and environs. Fires are the new normal, and the fire season, which was once confined to the warm weather months, now seems to be endless. Climate change, marked by rising temperatures and less rain, leads to more frequent and severe fires, with forests less able to recover. The film explains why fires move more rapidly uphill, describes fire plumes, and examines the terrifying spectacle of “fire whirls,” which are essentially tornadoes with temperatures hot enough to melt steel. Resident home movies show the life or death ordeal of running a gauntlet of fire and then returning to find one’s house in ashes. Some history of firefighting is chronicled, including a deadly 1918 blaze, the activities of smoke jumpers and “hotshots” and, of course, the Smokey the Bear fire prevention public service ads. The practice of prescribed burns, in which fires are not attacked but managed, has been complicated by a recent building boom in the forests. Offering a sobering look at a destructive force of nature, this is recommended. Aud: H, C, P. (S. Rees)