Natural disasters are increasing across the nation. In the West, these disasters often come in the form of wildfire, and perhaps no State understands the true cost of wildfire as California. While the Golden State has always had forest fires, these conflagrations are progressively becoming harder to control and more deadly. At the same time, California’s population has surpassed 40 million, pushing people further into wild spaces that have been adapted to fire. California Burning takes a deep and critical look at how the State’s fire-prone forests have been managed, and how we can all learn from the past to be better stewards of the land and avoid catastrophic wildfires in the future.
Smokey Bear is arguably the most effective advertising campaign in American history—but Smokey’s message created a fear in many of us that’s led to a misunderstanding of fire. In this first episode of California Burning, we explore what Smokey got wrong and how our forest management policies have contributed to the catastrophic wildfires we’re experiencing.
On the second episode of California Burning, Matt visits the Yurok Reservation in Northern California to visit Margo Robbins, President of the Cultural Fire Management Council and learn about how Native Californians maintained the forested lands in California for over 14,000 years with fire, to not only prevent future catastrophic wildfires, but to produce important cultural needs such as food and materials.
We’ll also hear from Professor of Pyrogeography Don Hankins, and Chairman of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band of Santa Cruz, Valentine Lopez to talk about his people’s mandate from the Creator to take care of the land and everything that resides on it.
On the third episode of California Burning, we talk to many people who are or have been working directly with fire - both deep in the forests, and closer to our communities. This includes a professor of fire ecology who runs a wildland fire lab, fire fighters, forest rangers, and a timber manager for a sustainable timber operation.
We’ll also hear about a group of locals who risked it all by going back into the Camp Fire after first being evacuated in an attempt to save their small gold-rush era community just to the west of the town of Paradise.
On the fourth episode of California Burning we focus on the issues surrounding fires where the urban and wild spaces meet. We hear from people who have experienced some of the most tragic fires in California’s history from the Thomas Fire that caused lethal debris flows in Santa Barbara, the Tubbs Fire that ravaged neighborhoods Santa Rosa, and the Camp Fire which destroyed over 19,000 homes in the town of Paradise.
We also join up with a forest thinning operation in Magalia that slowed down the Camp Fire - and made it possible for firefighters to save much of the town and protect the area’s water supply from fire contamination.
On the fifth and final episode of California Burning, we look for solutions that address the many different factors associated with the wildfires plaguing our State. This includes a talk about alternative building materials that can withstand fire, and a tour of a fire resistant house that survived the Carr fire while the rest of his neighborhood burnt.
We’ll also hear from people with innovative approaches to the problems of overgrown forests and ecosystem discfunction - all which drastically affect fire behavior and intensity.
Matt Fidler is an audio producer and sound designer with over 15 years of experience in public radio, and 10 years in podcasting. He has worked for some of the most listened to public radio shows in the NPR system including, Freakonomics Radio, Selected Shorts, The New Yorker Radio Hour, Studio 360, and The Takeaway. He produces podcasts for organizations such as The Carnegie Foundation, Conde Nast, and National Geographic. Matt launched the language podcast, Very Bad Words, in 2017 producing 40 episodes with millions of downloads, earning the #28 spot in the iTunes Charts, appearing in the “New and Notable” iTunes podcast listing and numerous positive write-ups on media outlets such as the BBC, Salon, HuffPost, Slate, and others.
Sarah Bohannon is the News Director of North State Public Radio. She is also the host and producer of After Paradise, a National Edward R. Murrow Award-winning program about post-Camp Fire recovery. For the past four years, Sarah has been the voice of Morning Edition at NSPR. Her experience includes producing podcasts and programs for broadcast, and reporting on some of the largest and most devastating wildfires in California’s history, including the Camp Fire, Carr Fire and Mendocino Complex. Sarah was raised in Butte County. She holds a B.A. in Journalism from California State University, Chico.
Gregg McVicar brings to this project over four decades of creative radio production experience. He has logged thousands of hours hosting live music and talk shows and created hundreds of programs (both music and documentary) for national audiences in a career that has often found him at the bleeding edge of culture, journalism and digital media. Over the years, he has received a Peabody and five other awards and was nominated for the prestigious United States Artists fellowship. He has taught numerous classes in journalism, radio and digital media at Western Public Radio, California State University, California College of the Arts and St. Mary’s College of Moraga.
Music for California Burning was composed by Stephen LaRosa of Wonderboy Audio.