America's ring of fire

Sep 10, 2020

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


We begin in California, where record wildfires have been burning across the state for weeks. For more than a century, Americans have been putting out wildfires as fast as possible, an approach that’s led to a buildup of fuel. Reporter Danielle Venton from public radio station KQED explores what humans can do to create a healthier relationship with wildfires. 


As the number of wildfires increases, the blazes also are causing more damage than before. Next, we learn from former 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. 


Then, former Reveal data reporter Emmanuel Martinez looks at the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona and what followed. That disaster took the lives of 19 specially trained firefighters, destroyed more than 100 homes and burned more than 8,000 acres. But it didn’t scare people away from living in Yarnell. Within three years, about half the homes lost in the fire were rebuilt, even though the threat of wildfire is still there. 


One Arizona town has a solution to its wildfire problem: It’s cutting trees to save the forest. Reveal’s Ike Sriskandarajah reports on how people in Flagstaff have transformed their fire department and landscape to prevent the dense forest surrounding them from turning into a ring of fire. 

Parts of this episode originally were broadcast Oct. 8, 2016.