'AMERICAN EXPERIENCE: The Big Burn'
(DVD / NR / 2015 / PBS)
Overview: Inspired by Timothy Egan's best-selling book, The Big Burn is the dramatic story of an unimaginable wildfire that swept across the Northern Rockies in the summer of 1910.
DVD Verdict: Amazingly, and sadly, the fire devoured more than three million acres in 36 hours, confronting the fledgling U.S. Forest Service with a catastrophe that would define the agency and the nation's fire policy for the rest of the 20th century and beyond.
As America tries to manage its fire-prone landscapes in the 21st century, The Big Burn provides a cautionary tale of heroism and sacrifice, arrogance and greed, hubris and, ultimately, humility, in the face of nature's frightening power.
The story plays out that on the evening of August 20th, hurricane force winds of seventy miles per hour fanned the flames of the fires into one gigantic blaze, igniting the horror of what would come to be known as the Big Burn. When it was finally over, more than the aforementioned three million acres of forest had been burned and a billion dollars’ worth of timber had been lost.
Soot from the fires darkened skies as far away as Boston and a layer of ash blanketed the ice of Greenland. But it was the human toll that stunned the nation—many were injured, scores had lost their homes, and more than seventy-eight firefighters perished in the flames.
No sooner had the smoke cleared than the debate over the lessons of the Big Burn began. Although no longer its leader, Pinchot passionately defended the Forest Service’s actions and trumpeted the heroism of the men who lost their lives. Congress finally relented, doubling the Forest Service’s budget and expanding the territories under its control.
One hundred years later, the legacy of the Big Burn can be measured in the growth of the U.S. Forest Service and in fire suppression policies that demanded that every fire be fought; a policy most now think is misguided. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.78:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.