In the year 2000 alone, wildfires ignited over six million acres across the United States, destroying homes, scorching lives - and burning through over $1 billion in firefighting costs. And years of fire suppression have left a dangerous legacy: forest conditions that lead to more catastrophic fires than ever before.
In this edition of Nova we see that the firefighting community is asking new questions: can we win, if we only fight fire as a war? Should we fight all fires? Ecologists point to another side of fire - as one of the key elements in healthy ecosystems, necessary and revitalizing. What would happen to our forests if we did eliminate all wildfires?
To find out what's wrong with America's war on wildfires, travel to the fire line with the Arrowhead Hotshots, a top firefighting team pushed to its limit in "the fire summer from hell." Take the first jump with a group of rookie smokejumpers training to fight fires in remote terrains. Trace the dramatic and often tragic history of American wildfires. See how deliberately set "prescribed fires" may help America avoid out-of-control blazes--or may lead to disasters like the fire that burned Los Alamos, New Mexico. And explore the science of fire, from the smallest burning match to uncontrollable, landscape-sized conflagrations.
We see the infamous Mann Gulch and Storm King Mountain fires that resulted in the deaths of many fire fighters. Computer animation shows how the fires progressed, and how the fire fighters were trapped.
Interviews with Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, as well as noted experts on wildland firefighting (including Steve Pyne, Norman Christensen and John Maclean), give a range of opinions on the subject of wildland fires.