Wildfire documentary sparks personal connection with Park City Film executive director
‘Elemental’ screens Sept. 21 at the Santy Auditorium
Her family was one of the 5,000 households that were evacuated from Summit Park and Pinebrook during the Parleys Canyon Fire that consumed 541 acres in 2021.
“We’re standing in my backyard and seeing this huge plume of smoke coming up and it was so surreal,” she said.
Wang’s husband, Canice Harte, who is on the Summit County Search and Rescue team, was at Home Depot and also saw the smoke.
“He called me, and then he was called to evacuate homes,” Wang said. “He had to go door-to-door to get people to leave, and he had to tell people who didn’t leave that they wouldn’t be able to come get them, because it would be too dangerous due to … these tight, dead-end canyons.”
If people refused to leave a home, Harte had to write the number of people who lived in the dwelling, according to Wang.
“That way (Search and Rescue) would know how many bodies they needed to recover if the neighborhood burned down,” she said. “The reality was pretty ominous.”
These memories popped up while Wang looked for a movie that Park City Film could screen as part of its Reel Community Series, a program that forms partnerships with nonprofits.
The partnering organization this month is the Wasatch Back chapter of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a non-partisan establishment that works with elected officials, community leaders and the general public to raise awareness of climate change and climate change solutions, Wang said.
“They wanted to bring in a film that addressed climate change, and I thought looking at this issue through the lens of fire would be an interesting way of doing it,” she said. “This is something people are thinking about locally, and we’re seeing how the forest service is managing the forest around us.”
“Elemental,” which premiered in the spring, follows residents who narrowly escaped the 2018 wildfire named Camp Fire that killed 85 people and destroyed 18,804 structures within 153,336 acres of Paradise, California.
It also looks at subsequent wildfires that have scorched areas of Oregon and Colorado, Wang said.
“It doesn’t cover Maui, because that is too recent,” she said. “But it does ask the questions, ‘how do these fires happen?’ ‘Why did they happen?’ ‘Why are they burning longer and hotter and how can we do better to prevent them from happening?'”
The film also looks back at using fire to mitigate the chance of wildfires, said Wang, who has a background in wildfire prevention due to her work with the Wildlife Conservation Society.
“Indigenous peoples used to work with fire in harmony with nature to create places where they could raise livestock and have farms, and the scenes in the film are powerful when they show what they’ve been doing and how these practices are being embraced again,” she said. “The fact that we’ve been suppressing fires is part of the problem, because we’re creating a buildup of fuel.”
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Dr. Logan Mitchell, climate scientist and energy analyst with Utah Clean Energy, a nonprofit committed to creating a future that ensures healthy, thriving communities that are empowered and sustained by clean energy.
Panelists include Jessica Kirby, Summit County County Lands and Natural Resources manger, Brad Washa, retired firefighter and assistant professor of Wildfire Science at Utah State University and Dr. Kerry Kelly, associate professor of chemical engineering at the University of Utah.
“We will look at this issue on the meta level, as to what is causing fires, but we will also look at what precipitates them and what the downstream effects are,” Wang said. “We will examine everything from climate, drought, what creates the perfect scenarios for these fires to become so hot and air quality and the downwind effect.”
Wang still remembers how clear her perception of what is important in her life became as her family prepared to evacuate two years ago.
Wang still remembers how, as her family prepared to evacuate two years ago, her perception of what is important in her life became clear.
“After we packed the essentials, we started looking at what photo albums to take, and that’s when Rocky Mountain Power cut off the electricity in our grid to make sure there wouldn’t be new fires if power lines went down,” she said. “When that happened, we said, ‘It’s time to go. There is nothing left that matters. We have my family and our animal.'”
BalletNext opens the curtain on “Nutcracker’s Greatest Hits,” which features a Park City twist, on Wednesday.
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