The United States Forest Service has been the caretaker of 193 million acres of public land for 112 years. It’s a big job. And the most estimable job in USFS is held by a black bear named Smokey. Just kidding. Hotshots, smokejumpers, and helicopter rappellers are tasked with combating and containing wildfires. Like Steve McQueen or Bette Davis, wildland firefighters ooze cool. Only these folks aren’t acting. They’re the real deal.
Fighting Fire With Fire is a new short film that highlights the inherent radness of the stifling and dangerous job of wildland firefighting. Directed by Brandon Kuzma, whose film work is perhaps best described as art meets culture meets that warm feeling you get when wrapped in the afghan your mother knit, the film is moody, artistic, and ethereal. The poetic visuals and ominous music drive the drama, almost hinting toward impending doom that luckily (given that we are watching fire sweep over landscape) never spills over. Fighting Fire With Fire achieves a tangible, emotive response in just three and a half minutes. Yet, it leaves the audience wanting a bit more, which may be the point.
The release of the film is timely, as the U.S. is in the midst of fire season. At the beginning of the summer, nearly 30 wildfires were burning across the West. In June, a fire in Utah engulfed 72 square miles, burned 13 homes, and forced 1,500 people to evacuate. It was the largest active fire in the U.S. at the time. A fire this summer in Arizona grew from 961 acres to nearly 10,000 acres in just three days. In spring, USFS researcher Paul Hessburg traveled the western states on a talking tour, labeling today as the “era of the megafire.” According to Hessburg, the rate of growth for megafires, a wildfire that burns 100,000 acres or more, is exponential. Yikes. USFS wildland firefighters, cool? Yes. Deserving of our respect and admiration? A resounding hell yeah.
Photos by Cole Barash