Director Matthew Irving began his career fighting wild dirt fires in 2003, so in many ways his latest film project felt like coming home. The wild landa short documentary produced in partnership with the Land Management Officefollows the Colorado Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew as he fights wildfires in California and Montana during the 2021 season. It was a “dream come true” to combine his two loves of wildfire and film , Irving said.
Wildfires are burning hotter and stronger than before, largely due to severe drought caused by climate change, as well as a history of fire suppression tactics who let the fuel of the wild lands accumulate. Hotshot crews use a variety of tactics to fight these fires, as shown in the film. One technique requires crews to build their own line of fire (away from the head of the fire), with the aim of directing it back towards the wildfire and burning all the fuel in its path.
While much of the film shows the crew hiking in the backcountry and fighting fires, Irving wanted to focus on the important relationship between crew and crew chief, a relationship that requires trust and respect when hotshots put their lives at risk. . The Colorado Craig Interagency Hotshot Crew, led by Logan Blankenship, is a tight-knit group and even throws a small birthday party for a crew member at the end of a long night. Blankenship, says Irving, is the best team leader he has ever seen or worked with.
Working conditions play an important role in retaining career firefighters. Previously, it was common for hotshots to work 36-hour shifts, leading to burnout on teams. “I hope this movie shows other firefighters that it doesn’t have to be like that,” says Irving. “It’s normal for a crew chief to care about his crew, look after them and make sure they stay healthy.”