Nature’s Fury

Tuesday, 16 June 2009, 8:00PM – 9:00PM

In the final part of the series, Chris heads to Southern California at the height of the fire season and witnesses a 100 foot tornado of flames, a searing blaze threatening homes and firefighters desperately racing to cut down vegetation to starve the raging fires of fuel.

Chris meets the firemen who are dispatched to the front line to battle the blazes and stop the fires from spreading and destroying everything in their path. He films alongside the crew, feet away from the scorching heat, as they attempt to bring the infernos under control.

To capture the firestorms on film, Chris heads to Southern California’s wildfire country where densely forested mountains are intersected by heavily populated valleys that act as funnels for strong, hot desert winds that return every autumn.

The long hot summer has turned the area into a powder keg, the atmosphere is extremely unstable and wild fires are raging across the region. As Chris captures images of the dry scrubland his car suddenly bursts into flames and he is forced to call for urgent help. Firefighters are quickly on the scene and explain that many blazes are caused by heat generated by cars parked near to dry grassland which put not only vehicles, but also their owners, at risk of being engulfed by flames.

In this case the fire was started by the catalytic converter on Chris’s car – an eye-opening experience which will provide him with cause for reflection later in the film.

There are dramatic scenes as Chris encounters a 1500 acre firestorm raging amidst 70mph winds in the middle of the night. A sea of ash from the blaze resembles a snowstorm and proves to be an added complication for the fire crews when they spark many other fires, resulting in 20,000 people being evacuated from their homes.

The emergency services valiantly battle to quell the flames but not all buildings can be saved. As red hot embers drift on to a shop roof, Chris captures the moment it bursts into flames and the roof dramatically collapses.

The next day Chris joins Crew Seven, a group of convicted prisoners who are serving their sentences as firefighters, living in a institution instead of in jail. They have committed a range of offences such as drug dealing, armed robberies and burglaries but are now helping the fire service as part of a scheme run by the firefighting agency and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Chris joins the team as they head to a nearby town where a fire is already raging. The ferocious flames have quickly taken hold and as they approach the town they drive past houses that are already ablaze. Chris follows the crew as they chop back trees and dig up grass as the fire creeps ever closer – their goal is to starve the fire of fuel and stop it spreading.

Kerry Smith, the fire captain on the scene tells Chris about one of the houses they couldn’t save. He says: “It’s a big tragedy. The house is a house that can be replaced but the belongings on the inside can’t, the memories, that’s what’s the hard part about this.”

The fire has become so immense that it is creating its own winds and fanning itself, hurling scorching embers into the air. Chris films the scenes from a nearby hillside capturing a 100ft high spinning tornado of fire.

As the flames lick at the nearby houses the crew and Chris watch to see if their efforts have been in vain. The flames leap at a fence and try to jump the path into the garden of a house, but because the vegetation has been removed, the fire has nowhere to go.

Fourteen fire-fighters were injured in the fire and 30,000 acres of land was destroyed, but luckily no lives were lost.

Chris says: “It was sobering to me to learn that the cause of this fire was the catalytic converter of a car.”

Chris is with the crew as they meet a grateful woman whose house they saved.

She tells Chris: “I keep thinking, ‘What am I going to say to these young men who have saved my house?’ Thank you doesn’t seem to be enough, but I think it says it all.”

Chris says: “The men of Crew Seven, in fighting one of nature’s most deadly furies, have touched a community and have themselves been touched in return. What happens to these prisoners on release is very much up to them, it maybe a difficult path but maybe fighting fire has provided a glimpse of life as it could have been and still could be. Nature and its furies affect people in different ways.”

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