OwlTail

Cover image of Wildfire

Wildfire

On September 2nd 2017, just east of Portland, Oregon, 150 hikers were trapped behind a wall of flames created by one mistake, one that would lead to immense fear and loss. Wildfire, a podcast from REI Co-op, investigates the causes and repercussions of this devastating wildfire.

Weekly hand curated podcast episodes for learning

Popular episodes

All episodes

The best episodes ranked using user listens.

Warning: This podcast is a series podcast

This means episodes are recommended to be heard in order from the very start. Here's the 10 best episodes of the series anyway though!

Podcast cover

Trapped by Fire

Show transcript On September 2, 2017, 150 hikers in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge were suddenly and terrifyingly trapped near Punch Bowl Falls by the Eagle Creek Fire, a human-caused forest fire that burned for three months and decimated some 50,000 acres in one of the most unique, beloved and popular scenic areas of the Pacific Northwest. Episode one of Wildfire tells these hikers’ story and explores the broader issue of forest fires and their often misunderstood and contentious place in the natural order of our forests. Key takeaways: 1:01 – “The whole valley was on fire.” - A first-hand account of the Eagle Creek Fire 4:19 – Show Intro: The past, present and future of wildfire 10:45 – “More than just a place.” - The Columbia River Gorge 13:00 – The authorities learn of the Eagle Creek Fire 15:09 – Where we start with the story of wildfire: The forest 16:35 – Oregon’s forests, specifically those of the Columbia River Gorge 22:29 – Trapped by fire; 150 hikers behind a wall of fire 26:54 – “The real heart of the Gorge.” – What does this place mean to us? 41:55 – The point of conflict: The encroachment of modern civilization on wild space 43:27 – “I was one of the last people to see Tunnel Falls and The Punchbowl”- the escape 46:31 – Who started the fire? More About the Wildfire Podcast When a wildfire arrives at our doorstep, it’s a tragedy. This is especially true when these fires are human caused. But fire has always been an immense and immovable part of the natural order, particularly in the forests of the western United States. Forest fires and the destruction they cause are not black and white phenomenon, and they cannot be understood without looking closely at the issues that swirl and mutate around the subject of wildfire as much as the fires themselves. In Wildfire, hosts Graham Zimmerman and Jim Aikman explore the natural forest habitats in which wildfires burn, and how humans have historically interacted with forest fires and fire-susceptible terrain. Graham and Jim lead us into wild places impacted by forest fire; into history books; into conversations with scientists, naturalists, firefighters and politicians; and into the story of the destructive 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, a human-caused forest fire that forever changed Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, one of the most unique and beloved scenic areas in the Pacific Northwest. Guided by the story of the Eagle Creek Fire—and the ordeal of the 150 hikers who were unexpectedly trapped behind its towering flames—Wildfire explores how, over the last 100 years in the United States, we have demonized and sought to suppress wildfire in an effort to preserve natural resources, scenic spaces, and, of course, human civilization. Connect with the hosts Graham's website and Instagram Jim's website and Instagram Evan's (aka: The audio wizard) website and Instagram Sean's (aka: The wordsmith) [website](Sean's (aka: the wordsmith) website) You can see more of Graham and Jim's work through their production company, Bedrock Film Works.  Website Facebook Instagram

48mins

28 May 2019

Rank #1

Podcast cover

The Language of Wildfire

When this final episode of Wildfire was recorded, in May of 2019, wildfire Season had already kicked in. Or, maybe it never stopped. We’re breaking records all around the world: more loss of life due to forest fires; many more homes lost to fire; longer fire seasons; hotter global temperatures; much more carbon in the atmosphere. In short, we’re heading into uncharted territory. Our goal with this podcast series has been to equip you with the tools you need to understand wildfire, so that you can be a more informed citizen of the world and build a stronger relationship with our wild spaces. We covered the science, the fire and forest management methods, the history, and we explored what we can do in the future to and create a more symbiotic relationship between our society and the forests in which we live and on which we rely. But now that we’re wrapping up the show, you’re about to dive back into the media bath of forests burning and threatening communities while engulfing entire regions of the world in smoke. In this final episode of Wildfire, now that we’re done with the story of the Eagle Creek Fire in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, we’re going to arm you with the tools you need to interpret the information you see in the news, be more prepared personally, and, if you like, know where you can go to learn more. Resources Thriving with Fire Predictive Services National Interagency Fire Center Outlooks Crag Law Center What Does 'Containing A Fire' Really Mean - NPR Built to Burn - 99% Invisible  Forest Fire Facts  Firefighters United for Safety in Environmental Ethics  The National Fire Protection Association Key takeaways: 0:05 - In May of 2019, Wildfire Season had already kicked in, or maybe it never stopped… 2:24 – This is clearly a worldwide issue… 2:54 – In the Pacific Northwest, a record-setting fire season is already kicking in… 6:45 – A conversation with Ralph Bloemers, Co-Founder and Senior Staff Attorney at the Crag Law Center in Portland, around the language used to describe wildfire. 10:15 – How do we know if the wood products we’re buying come from companies with good forest management policies? 12:04 – We are, in fact, breaking many important records. Records that we do not want to be breaking… 13:00 – What can we, as individuals, do? 13:50 – What does it mean to “harden our homes?” 16:58 – Resources you can use to learn more about wildfire and what’s happening in our forests.

22mins

2 Jul 2019

Rank #2

Similar Podcasts

Podcast cover

The Future of Wildfire

The kid had started a fire that burned 49,000 acres of forest—76 square miles—a fire that closed a major highway, keeping hundreds of thousands of people from visiting the Gorge and its many businesses that rely on tourism to stay afloat. Oregon Parks and Recreation had to lay off a few dozen people to make up for lost business; The many families of the Gorge that evacuated suffered enormous financial burdens and emotional trauma; Five-thousand homes were threatened by the fire; The slopes of the Gorge were destabilized, as the root systems holding the dirt together burned up, leaving it prone to landslides and rockfall; The fire rained ash on Portland for days, and the smoke-filled air was a serious health hazard for more than a week; Many of the trails and campgrounds in the Gorge are still closed to this day. Clearly, the consequences were far reaching, and all of this would need to be considered in court. At the end of a contentious trial, the court decided the kid would serve no jailtime, but he would be fined the total amount of damages from the fire: $36,618,330. On top of the fine, he was given five years of probation and nearly 2,000 hours of community service and would have to write letters to everyone impacted by the fire. And he was banned from ever returning to the Columbia River Gorge scenic area. His life had changed forever. In episode five of Wildfire, we dive into the political spectrum around wildfire, and look into management solutions for dealing with the future of wildfire in the United States. And we’ll wrap things up in the Columbia River Gorge, concluding the story of Oregon’s 2017 Eagle Creek Fire. Key takeaways: 1:15 – “Before we went on the fieldtrip, the kids were still carrying around a lot of confusion and fear around what happened in the fire and how it affected their lives.” 4:44 – “As the fire died down, a largescale criminal investigation immediately swung into action, involving a number of law enforcement agencies. The community wanted somebody to pin the tragedy on, and they wanted a swift sentencing.” 5:18 – “When the kid arrived at the arraignment, he was charged with a litany of crimes…” 7:46 – “When I first started talking to people about the kid who started the fire….” 14:58 – “Everything I was hearing was leading me to assume that this kid is probably a nice guy, with respect for the laws and cultural mores of this country. But he had made a huge mistake, and he would have to pay a price for that.” 16:24 – “A national treasure is scarred for generations…” 18:21 – “It made me upset, because it wasn’t about trying to find the learning moment… it was about just punishing him.” 19:09 – The kid declined to speak to any journalists or address the public, except for this statement that he read at his trial… 21:47 – “It was inevitable that the forest would burn. As we’ve learned throughout this series, it simply has to. In fact, experts even agree that the forests in that area were overdue for a major fire.” 22:23 – “Over the last two years, since the fire went out, tempers around here have definitely cooled. It seemed that everyone I talked to had come around to a place of empathy and compassion, replacing anger and vengeance.” 24:56 – “Isn’t the system of forestry management that left the Columbia River Gorge so extremely vulnerable to a catastrophic fire as much to blame for what happened in Eagle Creek as this 15-year-old kid?” 25:52 – “I hope that we’ve all learned some valuable lessons, as well: To be better stewards of our planet; to be more responsible in nature; to be more humble, and respectful, and compassionate.” 26:23 – “The Eagle Creek Fire is almost two years in the rearview mirror, and we’re entering the 2019 wildfire season.” 27:30 – “As we’ve learned, this is a national issue… So, what’re we doing at a political level, from the top down, to combat this problem?” 31:35 – A conversation with Dr. Paul Hesberg, a 35-year veteran of the Forest Service’s Research and Development group as a fire ecologist in the Pacific Northwest. 32:35 – “We’ve been finding that the annual acres burned has been increasing consistently from year-to-year and decade-to-decade. And we’re seeing a nexus of a warming and drying climate interacting with 100 years or more of fire exclusion, which increased the area and density of many of our forests.” 33:08 – “The studies throughout the world are really conclusive. Rational minds aren’t arguing about whether or not we’re living in a new climate change world. We are. Period.” 34:30 – “We need to create wildfire-adapted communities. Get ready for the fires that are coming—because they’re coming—and we can get ready before the fact.” 35:34 – Scientists have developed seven core landscape principles that they think will move us in a direction that’s much more symbiotic with respect to wildfire. 41:04 – Exploring what’s happening in the Columbia River Gorge today, as it recovers from the Eagle Creek Fire. 44:05 – “It’ll look different, but it’s still a beautiful place to explore and enjoy, and will be, hopefully, for generations to come.” 44:47 – “Here we are, at the end of the story… disaster to regrowth.”

51mins

25 Jun 2019

Rank #3

Podcast cover

A Retrospective

Only a few days after it started, the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia River Gorge was only seven percent contained, so a sudden increase in the wind could cause it to once again continue its approach toward Portland, Oregon, a heavily wooded city of 700,00 people that hadn’t seen any measurable precipitation in 50 days. Everyone was skeptical that anything but rain could put this fire out, and it was nowhere in the forecast. In episode four of Wildfire, we’ll look into our wildfire management strategy as an institution; to learn from its founding principles, as well as its pitfalls, and learn from our triumphs and mistakes to help chart the best path forward. How did these policies originate, and why? What lead to this overwhelming strategy of suppression, and where has that left us now? Regarding the young man who started the fire, we’ll reveal everything we know about him, from press releases and news articles, to hopefully make some sense of his crime. And from there, we’ll look at the birth of the National Forest Service in the beginning of the 20th Century, the pioneering efforts of Teddy Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot, and the systemic perception of wildfire that has sunk its roots so deeply into society’s consciousness that it has been next to impossible to change. Key takeaways: 0:24 – The wind had finally died down, and for a moment, the fire had finally stopped spreading. 1:40 – The government elevated the fire from a type two incident to a type one incident. There were now more than 1,000 firefighters in the Gorge to fight this fire and stop it before it went nuclear… 6:55 –On September 2, 2017, a teenager in the Pacific Northwest walked into the woods and made a really, really big mistake. 8:45 – “Having a catastrophic event happen in the middle of a traditionally busy weekend obviously had an impact on every single business here in town. Our customers didn’t have a reason to come out anymore, because there weren’t any trails to run on, bike on, play on…” 12:15 – “From a developmental standpoint, working with teenagers, they’re with a group of friends, trying to look cool, trying to get that social acceptance, wanting people to think you’re a ‘badass’, and feeling like you’re invincible.” 15:27 – It simply isn’t true that this kind of fire will never happen again. These fires, manmade or not, will likely continue, as they have throughout history. 18:54 – “If you look back at the history of conflagrations in the United States, they pretty much align with the wave of frontier settlement....” – The history of wildland firefighting strategy, and the history if Smokey Bear 25:27 – It all fell apart in the 1980s, when full-suppression tactics came back into vogue. 29:00 – “We waged a war on wildfire as a nation. But is wildfire really terrible? Can we attach such a subjective and human label to something so far beyond us?” 31:49 – “Convincing the public that some wildfires are good is tricky, but convincing the government could be even harder. And wildfire management in the United States is inextricably attached to timber.” 32:35 – The logging industry grew by 1,000 percent at the end of the 20th century, and clearcutting went into full effect. You can’t drive through Oregon without seeing the scars of this unfortunate era. Every tree in America had a dollar sign on it. 34:27 – “We had a human-caused fire, an abandoned campfire, way up in a dead-end drainage, and the fire became very active and took off… and some individuals were trapped… and four perished, and two were badly burned. It’s not worth it, at all. It’s not worth a life.” 36:34 – “We need to learn to live worth fire, because it’s not going away.” 40:00 – “We’re never going to live in a world without fire, and we wouldn’t want to. But how would the legal system hold ‘The Kid’ accountable, and make a statement about his actions?” Resources Stephen Pyne's website Stephen Pyne's book: Fire in America The Big Burn by Tim Egan

45mins

18 Jun 2019

Rank #4

Most Popular Podcasts

Podcast cover

Incident Command

After the 15-year-old threw a lit smoke bomb that caused the Eagle Creek Fire to erupt almost immediately during Oregon’s record dry summer of 2017, he and his friends fled downhill toward the trailhead. “Do you realize you’ve started a forest fire?”, demanded a hiker also attempting to escape the flames. “What’re we supposed to do about it now?”, the kids replied, clueless as to the severity of their actions. In episode three of Wildfire, we examine the incident command structure of wildland firefighting forces, how these response systems work, and what drives these men and women to keep going as they put their life on the line to stop these fires. We talk to a Fire Captain from Eastern Oregon, to one of the commanders from the Eagle Creek Fire itself, and to a wildland firefighter who worked in the early 2000s, the most-deadly era in wildland firefighting. And, of course, we hear from the people of the Columbia River Gorge about the initial days of the Eagle Creek Fire evacuation, when they were trying desperately to save their homes, their town and their lives. Key takeaways: 1:45 – One of the boys in the group pulled a smoke bomb out of his pocket... 4:58 – “I wanted immediate punishment. I was so livid.” 6:32 – “After the kid threw the smoke bomb into Eagle Creek, the following days unraveled into a gradually worsening nightmare.” 8:58 - On the fourth of September, the weather was dry and hot. The wind was gusting, and the fire in Eagle Creek was growing rapidly. 9:39 – “A huge feeling of helplessness. Even with all those firefighters, there was nothing we were going to do to stop it.” 10:10 – “How does all this wildland firefighting work?” A conversation with Kurt Solomon, captain of the City of Bend Fire and Rescue, and Division Supervisor of Northwest Team 8. 15:07 - “They just didn’t realize the severity of the wind in the Gorge.” The citizens of Dodson, Oregon feel the effects of the Eagle Creek Fire 17:24 – “Surely fire could not jump a mile of water…” The fire jumps the Columbia River. 18:47 – “Out of this unimaginable hardship, a spirit of resilience was brewing in Cascade Locks.” The community rallies to feed and support the firefighters 20:59 – “It’s hard to imagine a more harrowing job, outside of military service.” The life of a wildland firefighter 26:53 – “The thing that kills firefighters is not necessarily even the heat… You’re basically inside a tornado, a fire tornado.” 27:55 – “The proverbial cavalry had arrived.” The battle to save The Multnomah Lodge 33:28 – “The bond you create in the face of chaos” How do forest fires build camaraderie among wildfire fighting teams? 36:35 – “I didn’t know anything about PTSD…” The physical and emotional strain experienced by wildland firefighters 38:09 – “In the Columbia River Gorge, a sense of guarded optimism was settling in…” 41:46 – “The fire’s initial, explosive growth had slowed significantly…” Reflecting on the work of the fire professionals 44:05 – Is there a better way to “fight” fires? 44:54 – Back in the Gorge, the firefighters were working hard to use the opportunity afforded them by the calm winds. But the fire was only 7 percent contained. 46:40 – Who was the teenager who started it all? How was he being handled by the legal system during this emotionally-charged time? Resources: FEMA's Incident Command Resources Page Multnomah Falls Lodge More about the Wildfire podcast When a wildfire arrives at our doorstep, it’s a tragedy. This is especially true when these fires are human caused. But fire has always been an immense and immovable part of the natural order, particularly in the forests of the western United States. Forest fires and the destruction they cause are not black and white phenomenon, and they cannot be understood without looking closely at the issues that swirl and mutate around the subject of wildfire as much as the fires themselves. In Wildfire, hosts Graham Zimmerman and Jim Aikman explore the natural forest habitats in which wildfires burn, and how humans have historically interacted with forest fires and fire-susceptible terrain. Graham and Jim lead us into wild places impacted by forest fire; into history books; into conversations with scientists, naturalists, firefighters and politicians; and into the story of the destructive 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, a human-caused forest fire that forever changed Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge, one of the most unique and beloved scenic areas in the Pacific Northwest. Guided by the story of the Eagle Creek Fire—and the ordeal of the 150 hikers who were unexpectedly trapped behind its towering flames—Wildfire explores how, over the last 100 years in the United States, we have demonized and sought to suppress wildfire in an effort to preserve natural resources, scenic spaces, and, of course, human civilization. Connect with the team Graham's website and Instagram Jim's website and Instagram  Evan's (aka: the audio wizard) website and Instagram Sean's (aka: the wordsmith) website You can see more of Graham and Jim's work through their production company, Bedrock Film Works. Website Facebook Instagram

46mins

11 Jun 2019

Rank #5