With Warming, a Terrifying New Normal for Firefighters

A Yale Environment 360 video goes onto the front lines with Colorado fire crews who have watched as massive, months-long wildfires have become a regular occurrence in their state.

To many people, climate change is a distant, abstract concept. But to the men and women who battle wildfires in Colorado and throughout the American West, evidence of a warming world is something they face on a daily basis. In recent years, these fire crews have fought blazes that are larger, more frequent, faster-moving, longer-lasting, and increasingly unpredictable — the result of rising temperatures, diminishing snowpack, and more frequent droughts. Thise360 video, “Unacceptable Risk: Firefighters on the Front Lines of Climate Change,” produced by The Story Group, focuses on the people battling to save lives and property in a rapidly changing environment.

It tells the story of dedicated professionals struggling to come to grips with a new and frightening breed of fire. Once known as the “asbestos state” because of its low incidence of big wildfires, Colorado is now experiencing huge, record-breaking fires almost every year.  “We’re being asked to battle fires that didn’t exist 20 years ago,” says veteran firefighter Don Whittemore. “We’re seeing a level of fire and an intensity of fire and a risk to firefighters that hasn’t existed in the past. On a day-to-day basis we’re being surprised — and in this business, surprise is what kills people.”