Wildfires have long been a natural part of healthy forest ecosystems. But recent suppression of wildfires by humans has been so aggressive, plants and trees have evolved less able to withstand them. Years of drought due to climate change have followed, parching the earth and killing millions of trees, particularly in Northern California. This has made forests more susceptible to wildfire and attack by the voracious bark beetle, all setting the stage for the destructive and deadly wildfires we’re experiencing now.
Although human activity has made conditions ripe for this new breed of wildfire, what happens next is up to us, too. The environment is changing so quickly it’s hard to know for sure if we’ll be able to adapt. Yet survivors are courageously showing us every day how to recover from unimaginable trauma and loss.
"Waking Up to Wildfires" documents this experience through the eyes of survivors, firefighters, scientists, and public health and housing advocates in the aftermath of the 2017 North Bay wildfires. The 56-minute documentary is screening locally at public events to help promote a dialogue between those featured in the film and wildfire survivors across Northern California. This web series is based on highlights from the film.
Episode 1: The changing environment
John Muir Institute Director Ben Houlton and USDA California Climate Hub Director Steve Ostoja discuss the role climate change is playing in the environment and how it's related to wildfires.
Episode 2: Wildfires and health
UC Davis Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC) Director Irva Hertz-Picciotto and Professional Researcher Keith Bein talk about the wildfire research they’re doing and what they know about urban wildfires that's concerning.
Episode 3: Solving a terrible problem
UC Davis Air Quality Research Center Director Anthony Wexler and Professional Researcher Keith Bein discuss what motivates them to do wildfire research. As they attempt to get their new air monitoring machine to work for the first time, they demonstrate the unexpected ups and downs of the scientific process.
Episode 4: Searching for sanctuary
Patient Tammy Scott and Dr. Nicholas Kenyon talk about how the 2017 North Bay wildfires affected Tammy’s asthma, upending her sense of security.
Episode 5: The burden of life and death
Similar to combat vets, wildland firefighters suffer from significantly higher rates of post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) than the general population. Cal Fire Captain Jason Novak discusses the emotional toll wildfires are taking on first responders, the culture of masculinity in the fire service and PTSD.
Episode 6: The security of little things
Everything Jack and Charlotte Thomas had worked so hard for suddenly vanished when their home of 27 years burned to the ground. The Thomases talk about experiencing post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and where they see their lives heading now. California HOPE-Sonoma Program Manager Wendy Wheelwright discusses the complicated emotions wildfire survivors have as they attempt to recover.
Episode 7: Smoke where there’s fog
Dayren Torres Carreño is like any other American high school student, except that she's a survivor of one of California's worst environmental disasters. The 2017 North Bay wildfires turned Dayren's life upside down when her family lost their home in Coffey Park. She talks about what it's like for a teen to cope with post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression.
Episode 8: Longing for home
Dayren’s mom Daysi Carreño, who cleans houses for a living, and Susan Shaw, an affordable housing advocate, discuss the issues affecting people with fewer resources, especially those who rent and struggle to get back onto their feet when disaster strikes.