America's Ring of Fire

America’s ring of fire

Wildfires are getting bigger, more expensive to fight and closer than ever to where people live. Reveal examines how wildfires got so dangerous – and how some areas are fighting back. Credit: Anna Vignet for Reveal

UPDATE, June 17, 2017: Host Al Letson speaks with Ross Hauck from the Kansas Forest Service, the smallest forest service in the nation. That became a problem for Hauck this spring when the state’s largest wildfire in history burned hundreds of thousands of acres. An updated version of the original episode can be heard on this page.

Wildfires are getting bigger, more expensive to fight and closer than ever to where people live. The consequences can be deadly. This episode of Reveal examines how wildfires got so dangerous – and how people in some areas are fighting back.

As the number of wildfires increases, they’re also causing more damage than before. We learn from Reveal senior data reporter Eric Sagara that this isn’t a problem exclusive to the Western United States – more and more Americans are building homes in wildlands across the country.

Next, we hear from data reporter Emmanuel Martinez about the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. That disaster took the lives of 19 specially trained firefighters, destroyed more than 100 homes and burned more than 8,000 acres. But it hasn’t scared people away from living in Yarnell. Three years later, about half the homes lost in the fire have been rebuilt, even though the threat of wildfire is still there.

And one Arizona town has a solution to its wildfire problem: It’s cutting trees to save the forest. Producer Ike Sriskandarajah takes us to Flagstaff where residents voted to invest in transforming their fire department and landscape to prevent the dense forest surrounding them from turning into a ring of fire.

Finally, we head to California, where water agencies withheld the identity of a single home using 11.8 million gallons of water during a crippling drought year. Our senior news applications developer Michael Corey turned to satellites and some fancy math to zero in on the Wet Prince of Bel Air.

DIG DEEPER

Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

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