UPDATE, June 17, 2017: Host Al Letson speaks with Ross Hauck from the Kansas Forest Service, the smallest forest service in the nation. That became a problem for Hauck this spring when the state’s largest wildfire in history burned hundreds of thousands of acres. An updated version of the original episode can be heard on this page.

Wildfires are getting bigger, more expensive to fight and closer than ever to where people live. The consequences can be deadly. This episode of Reveal examines how wildfires got so dangerous – and how people in some areas are fighting back.

As the number of wildfires increases, they’re also causing more damage than before. We learn from Reveal senior data reporter Eric Sagara that this isn’t a problem exclusive to the Western United States – more and more Americans are building homes in wildlands across the country.

Next, we hear from data reporter Emmanuel Martinez about the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona. That disaster took the lives of 19 specially trained firefighters, destroyed more than 100 homes and burned more than 8,000 acres. But it hasn’t scared people away from living in Yarnell. Three years later, about half the homes lost in the fire have been rebuilt, even though the threat of wildfire is still there.

And one Arizona town has a solution to its wildfire problem: It’s cutting trees to save the forest. Producer Ike Sriskandarajah takes us to Flagstaff where residents voted to invest in transforming their fire department and landscape to prevent the dense forest surrounding them from turning into a ring of fire.

Finally, we head to California, where water agencies withheld the identity of a single home using 11.8 million gallons of water during a crippling drought year. Our senior news applications developer Michael Corey turned to satellites and some fancy math to zero in on the Wet Prince of Bel Air.


  • Read: When spark meets sprawl: Building in wildlands increases fire risk


Support for Reveal is provided by The Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and Mary and Steven Swig.

Track list:

  • Camerado, “True Game (Reveal show theme)” (Cut-Off Man Records)
  • Jack Rose, “Tree In The Valley” from “Luck In The Valley” (Thrill Jockey)
  • Loch Lomond, “Seattle Denver Arms (Instrumental)” from “Pens From Spain Instrumentals” Needle Drop Co.()
  • Loch Lomond, “Violins and Tea (Instrumental)” from “Pens From Spain Instrumentals” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • Scott Gratton, “A Way to Get By” from “Found and Lost”
  • Scott Gratton, “Forward Motion” from “Found and Lost”
  • Loch Lomond, “Violins and Tea (Instrumental)” from “Pens From Spain Instrumentals” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • Weinland, “It’s Already True (Instrumental)” from “Breaks in the Sun Instrumentals” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • John Fahey, “Revelation on the Banks of the Pawtuxent” from “The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites” (Takoma)
  • Billy Torello, “In Non Uso La Schimua” from “Il Passato Ha Gli Zoccoli” (Spettro Rec)
  • Ars Sonor, “Tabea” from “Raoul Wallenbergs Fantastiska Resa Genom Göteborg”
  • Ars Sonor, “Övergivna” from “Raoul Wallenbergs Fantastiska Resa Genom Göteborg”
  • David Szesztay, “80’s” from “Cinematic Indie” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • Michael Howard, “Limelight (Instrumental)” from “The Martyr and the Magician (Instrumentals)” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • Gillicuddy, “Jupiter The Blue” from “…Plays Guitar” (Clinical Archives)
  • Lessazo, “Lendemain au caf” from “Soleil d’hiver” (Altermusique)
  • Micahel Chapman & The Woodpiles, “Goodwill Cowboys Ride Again” from “NATCH 7” (NATCH)
  • Robin Allender, “The Spirit Wooed (Instrumental)” from “Above the Dreamer’s Head (Instrumentals)” (Needle Drop Co.)
  • Lessazo, “Lendemain au caf” from “Soleil d’hiver” (Altermusique)
  • Micahel Chapman & The Woodpiles, A Stranger’s Map of Texas“” from “NATCH 7” (NATCH)
  • Jack Rose, “Cathedral et Chartres” from “I Do Play Rock and Roll” (Three Lobed Recordings)
  • SK, “Get To Know You” from “SK’s Beats (Instrumentals)”
  • Will Smith, “Fresh Prince of Bel Air Theme Song”

Julia B. Chan worked at The Center for Investigative Reporting until June, 2017. Julia B. Chan is a producer and the digital editor for Reveal's national public radio program. She’s the voice of Reveal online and manages the production and curation of digital story assets that are sent to more than 200 stations across the country. Previously, Chan helped The Center for Investigative Reporting launch YouTube’s first investigative news channel, The I Files, and led engagement strategies – online and off – for multimedia projects. She oversaw communications, worked to better connect CIR’s work with a bigger audience and developed creative content and collaborations to garner conversation and impact.

Before joining CIR, Chan worked as a Web editor and reporter at the San Francisco Examiner. She managed the newspaper’s digital strategy and orchestrated its first foray into social media and online engagement. A rare San Francisco native, she studied broadcasting at San Francisco State University, focusing on audio production and recording. Chan is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Eric Sagara is a senior data reporter for Reveal. He joined Reveal following a news applications fellowship at ProPublica, where he worked on projects about pharmaceutical payments to doctors, deadly force in police agencies and the trail of guns in the United States. Prior to that, he was a reporter on The Newark Star-Ledger's data team. Sagara is originally from Arizona, where he reported on business, education, crime, wildfires and government. He is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Emmanuel Martinez is a data reporter for The Markup. For the past six years, he’s worked in the same position for the investigative news outlet and public radio show Reveal in the San Francisco Bay Area, using data, statistics, and programming to tell stories. His most recent work examined access to homeownership and mortgage discrimination, where he analyzed 31 million housing records to prove that people of color were being routinely denied mortgages in 61 major U.S. metro areas. Emmanuel has also worked on a tool to help match unidentified bodies with missing persons’ reports, reported on why wildfires in the West are growing larger and sparking closer to homes, and dug into water shortages in California’s Central Valley, which produces a quarter of the nation’s food.

Ike Sriskandarajah was a senior reporter, producer, and fill-in host for Reveal. He has worked on projects that have won an Emmy, two medals from Investigative Reporters and Editors, and awards from Third Coast, the Education Writers Association, and the New York Associated Press Association. He was a narrative audio producer at The New York Times, making investigative episodes for "The Daily." Sriskandarajah is from Wisconsin and reports from New York City.

Cheryl Devall is a senior radio editor at Reveal. She is a native Californian with Louisiana roots from which storytelling runs deep. As an editor and correspondent, she's worked for the Daily World in Opelousas, Louisiana (the birthplace of zydeco music); Southern California Public Radio; National Public Radio; “Marketplace;” The Mercury News in San Jose, California; and the Chicago Tribune. Devall has shared in three Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for coverage of AIDS and black America, the 1992 Los Angeles riots and North Carolina 40 years after the federal war on poverty. She's based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.