"Wildfire: Feel The Heat"

July 1, 1999
Robert M. Winston reviews a new large-screen film spotlighting the brave men and women who fight wildfires.
"Wildfire: Feel The Heat" is truly a unique movie production. The large-screen movie captures the essence of wildland fire, focuses in on the arsenal of tools used in wildland firefighting, and brings you up close and personal with the extraordinarily brave dedicated men and women who love to fight wildfires.

As the movie begins, we are transported out of the urban setting and into the pristine beauty of a western pine forest. The rumble of thunder is perceptively ominous. A lightning bolt flashes across the sky, striking a towering pine.The tree "torches" out, showering the surrounding forest with burning embers. A wildfire is beginning.

The fire's red/orange glow is spotted by a fire tower observer high on a mountaintop many miles away. The notification is made and a dispatch order is given to the nearest available U. S. Forest Service Smokejumper base. The Jumpers who are "next to go" on the duty roster quickly don their heavily padded jumpsuits, parachutes and helmets, then gingerly board the twin-engine transport that will take them to the rapidly growing fire.

The transport circles the fire for size-up and to locate the best possible jump spot, if there is one. Six Jumpers will bail out at about 1,500 feet, giving them only about 90 seconds or less before they land on the ground or in one of those tall pines. Ouch! (That's why their suits are padded.) Amazing camera work gives the audience the sensation of actually parachuting with the Smokejumpers. Firefighting tools are also parachuted to the Jumpers and the backbreaking and dangerous work begins.

Air attack is on the way and is provided by an "air tanker," converted from military use, that will drop thousands of gallons of brightly colored red fire retardant onto the fire. The extraordinary camera work and precise sound system propels the audience right into the action. We are not in our theater seats anymore. We are on the fire lines with the "Hot Shot" hand crews as they clear away combustible brush, cut down flaming trees with chain saws and use fire to fight fire.

"Prescribed fire" or "Rx" is a tool used by wildland firefighters to reduce fuel buildups of grass, brush and forest floor litter under carefully controlled conditions. Rx fire use is on the increase in many areas of the country and in other countries to naturally cleanse large tracts of wildlands. This can help to avoid environmentally destructive and catastrophic wildland and wildland/urban interface firestorms.

Some of the tools that are used by Rx fire crews to ignite wildland ground fuels are flares/fusees, flare guns, drip torches and the "terra torch." The terra torch shoots an impressive stream of pure fire 30 feet into the tinder-dry brush to consume it, thus denying the wildfire its fuel. This is hot work! You can almost "Feel the Heat" as a firefighter directs a cascade of orange flame right into the camera's lens.

The audience is suddenly aware of a whirling sound that gets louder and louder. It's in the sky and getting closer. The sound becomes a roar as a huge heavy lift "Sky Crane" helicopter hovers overhead, opens its bomb-bay doors and unloads tons of water onto a wall of flames running in the forest below. A direct hit! The fire's progress is slowed.

The smoke is thick and the camera is lowered to ground level for better visibility. There's an unmistakable sound of a large brush engine rumbling through the forest and coming in our direction. The engine rolls right over the camera and the audience gets an interesting view of the undercarriage of this large vehicle as it rolls on by.

The action is nonstop as we are transported to other fires throughout the western United States and across the oceans to Australia, where massive wildfires annually burn tens of thousands of acres. You'll feel that adrenaline rush as the camera takes you literally into the flames and smoke of natures most awesome force, WILDFIRE! The audience is treated to fabulous vistas of beautiful panoramic scenery that can only be appreciated with the use of "large format film" projection.

Production Facts

Fifteen men and women made up the Discovery Pictures production crew. Everyone passed mandatory basic wildfire training, including the physical fitness test, thus allowing the crew to be issued Interagency Red Cards. They all became wildland firefighters. The crew covered nearly a dozen wildfires in California, the northwestern United States and in Australia. The movie took nearly two years to complete at a cost of $5 million.

The movie used 11 specially designed exterior camera mounts on various firefighting aircraft. Every mount had to be FAA approved. On the ground the camera was at times covered with bulletproof glass and wrapped in protective gear to withstand large water drops and the heat of the fires.

"Wildfire: Feel The Heat" is not a Hollywood fantasy film. It is the real thing, filmed on location during the heat of the battle. This is one of the must-see films of 1999 and is an exciting sensory experience for people of all ages. It's not just for firefighters. Your family and friends will better understand this type of firefighting by viewing this unique, entertaining and educational film.

The movie is showing at IMAX and OMNI theaters at selected locations across the country. A "Wildfire" website at Discovery Channel Online (www.wildfire.discovery.com) provides additional information and movie location schedules.

Robert M. Winston

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