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Wildfire documentary lights up Park City Film screen to engage community

Utah Fire Info
“Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire” screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21. Admission is free. Registration is recommended. The panel discussion will directly follow.

Park City Film will present a climate change documentary called “Elemental" Sept. 21. It’s an effort to engage with the community about wildfires, their connection to climate change and the environmental impact.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, multiple studies have found that climate change, which has caused warmer and drier conditions, has led to an increased wildfire season and larger fires that burn millions of acres of forest. These disasters have destroyed lives, homes and communities and have cost billions of federal dollars.

The new documentary “Elemental” looks at how society can reimagine our relationship with wildfires to keep homes and communities safe.

Park City Film Executive Director Katy Wang said “Elemental” is one of many documentaries Park City Film has shown highlighting climate change.

“And we thought, certainly with the wildfires that we've seen here in our community over the past few years, and what's gone on in Hawaii over the summer, that this would be a perfectly timed film to bring this conversation to the forefront,” Wang said.

Wang said after the film there will be a panel discussion moderated by Logan Mitchell, a climate scientist, and Brad Washa, a retired firefighter and professor of Wildland Fire Science at Utah State University. The panel will include Jess Kirby, the director of lands and natural resources for Summit County, and Dr. Kerry Kelly, a professor of chemical engineering at University of Utah.

Washa said six of the seven largest fires in California happened in one year.

“We used to talk about mega fires as being large destructive fires,” Washa said. “Actually, a couple of years ago, I was on the August complex, and that was over a million acres in size and, and looking at not necessarily the number of fires, but how large these fires are growing and the severity of the, you do have to question if there's a correlation between climate change and these events.”

Washa said the film also talks about controlled burns and how they are used for wildfire management.

“So that includes instead of suppressing every fire, managing those fires, and putting fire back into the landscape,” he said. "Anthropogenic burning, or the traditional ecological knowledge that they talked about with Karuk Tribe in the movie, is a practice that we're looking at throughout the West, and even here in Park City as far as reintroducing fire back into these fire dependent ecosystems.”

Mitchell said these fires are not only bad for the forest, but also for the air quality during and after a forest fire.

“There's been some recent studies showing that wildfire smoke are some of the worst kind, have the highest toxicity for breathing in and what it does inside of our bodies,” Mitchell said. “And because not all of, you know, particulate matter is just any particle that's in the air. But some particles are more benign than others. And so we're finding out that wildfire smoke is actually quite toxic to breathe in.”

Mitchell said the toxic matter in the air goes up exponentially when entire communities burn like Paradise, California, or Lahaina, Hawaii.

“Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire” screens at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21. Admission is free. Registration is recommended. The panel discussion will come directly after the film.