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Release Date: February 5, 2015

Year    :   2015
By    :   The Story Group
Slogan    :   Firefighters on the front lines of climate change
Genre    :   Nonprofits & Activism
Time    :   12 minutes
Budget    :   
Age    :   

“On a day to day basis, we’re being surprised. And in this business, surprise is what kills people.” So says Don Whittemore, a career firefighter who has battled many of Colorado’s epic fires over the past two decades. In 2014, The Story Group recorded the experiences of Whittemore and other firefighters who are repeatedly responding to record-breaking wildfires. Human-caused climate changes are transforming Colorado’s fire environment, bringing higher temperatures, drier fuels, and diseases to forests. These climate impacts mix with other human pressures to create a volatile situation for firefighters and communities. If current trends continue, we can expect more frequent, larger and more devastating wild fires in Colorado and across the country.

Unacceptable Risk DVD Request

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If you’ve seen Unacceptable Risk please take 3-5 minutes to reflect and share your thoughts by clicking here. This feedback is extremely valuable as we continue to cultivate this growing conversation and pursue additional projects that support the voices of Colorado firefighters and residents.


Join the movement:
Stand with our firefighters!

Dear Governor Hickenlooper, Senator Gardner, and Senator Bennett:

As Colorado firefighters and residents we are concerned about the escalating risks associated with our shifting wildfire regime. Extreme fire behavior creates unprecedented risk for firefighters on the frontlines and puts whole communities at risk. We are doing our part to mitigate risk and work together to make our neighborhoods safe but we need your support.

As you know, 2015 was the hottest and most fire-intense year on record. More than 10 million acres burned and the USFS spent 1.3 billion dollars on fire suppression. Federal and state budgets and staff are being stretched as never before to fight fire. The climate is changing – warmer temperatures, drought conditions and our earlier-and-faster melting snowpack – leads to drier conditions with more fuel to ignite potentially deadly wildfires. Warming temperatures contribute to extreme weather events that create unpredictable, and sometimes deadly conditions for firefighters and homeowners.

The May-October fire season is a thing of the past – Colorado now has a year-round fire season, putting our firefighters in even more danger. Just this past February wildfires ignited close to Front Range neighborhoods.

By 2050, 20 million acres are predicted to burn annually and we need to be prepared. The good news is we have the tools to address our growing wildfire problem.

There’s much that you and the State of Colorado can—and should—be doing including:

We can’t wait for the next devastating fire, we need to take proactive measures now as state to ensure we can keep our firefighters and communities safe. We call on you to change the trajectory of climate change and the fire landscape through supporting clean and renewable energy.

Get the Science

MAKING THE CONNECTION: The science linking increased wildfire risk and climate change. Firefighters see that the fire environment is changing, becoming more dangerous as fires become more frequent and more intense. Studies from a number of different sources tell us that the warming climate is one of the root causes of this dangerous shift.

The following are highlights from select publications:

“Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks, all caused by or linked to climate change, have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the Southwest. Fire models project more wildfire and increased risks to communities across extensive areas.”
Source:-National Climate Assessment Highlights

“The western wildfire season has grown from five months on average in the 1970s to seven months today. The annual number of large wildfires has increased by more than 75 percent.” Source: Playing with Fire- Report by Union of Concerned Scientists

“Since 1970, regional temperatures have increased by 1.9 degrees Fahrenheit. By mid-century, temperatures are expected to increase an additional 2.5 to 6.5 degrees Fahrenheit.” Source: Playing with Fire- Report by Union of Concerned Scientists

“Fire makes a huge difference on the landscape,” says Rachel Loehman, a research scientist at the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory. “If and when they burn, in forests already affected by climate-related stressors like drought and mountain pine beetle epidemics, fires can cause a forested landscape to shift to a grassland or shrubland. This is especially true if fires burn differently than they have in the past—more frequently, with higher severity, or covering more area—because the forests may not be adapted to these emerging fire regimes.” Source: Joint Fire Science

“Changing climatic conditions across regions of the United States are driving increased temperatures— particularly in regions where fire has not been historically prominent. This change is causing variations and unpredictability in precipitation and is amplifying the effects and costs of wildfire. Related impacts are likely to continue to emerge in several key areas: limited water availability for fire suppression, accumulation at unprecedented levels of vegetative fuels that enable and sustain fires, changes in vegetation community composition that make them more fire prone, and an extension of the fire season to as many as 300 days in many parts of the country. The Rising Cost of Fire Operations 2015, United States Forest Service

Follow these news sources for frequent information on the current wildfire season:

High Country News-Wildfire

Wildfire Today

Denver Post-Colorado Wildfires