It’s no secret that wildfires are a serious problem in North Central Washington (and across the West), and the problem is only getting worse. But what’s going on? Why are wildfires getting larger and more destructive?

The Wildfire Project (a working title) is a touring, multi-media presentation that works to find answers to this growing question. It also helps audiences understand how we got in this mess and what it’s going to take to help communities better live with wildfire and reduce the devastation that communities like ours recently experienced.

There are many things we can do to reduce our risk of catastrophic wildfire, but first we must change the way we prepare for wildfire and manage our natural places.

1. The Wildfire Project consists of an hour-long, traveling presentation comprised of “Ted" talk-like discussions and 3-5-minute video vignettes that share different perspectives, information and personal stories related to the topic. We will provide the scientific information that audiences need to understand the issue and also share emotionally engaging personal stories about how fire impacts our neighbors, communities and natural places, to ensure people continue the conservation and act to make needed policy changes.

2. Dr. Paul Hessburg, internationally renowned forest ecologist and a leading voice in the area of wildfire, is supervising the scientific content for the presentation. For nearly 40 years, Hessburg has studied this topic, and through his leadership and collaboration he will ensure that the end product passes muster with the rest of the scientific community. He is looking to apply what has been learned through research and development to create more resilient forests and fire-adapted communities. He is passionate about creating a safer, healthier environment for many generations to enjoy.

North 40, the documentary film production house, will create the media that supports Hessburg’s talks and the video vignettes. The creatives at North 40 have been making documentary films and commercial productions for nearly 10 years and have substantial experience in environmental topics.

3. In November at the Wildfires & Us Summit, we had an opportunity to show an audience of more than 400 some initial media, including 15 minutes of Hessburg and four video shorts. Post-summit survey results show we were successful in engaging the audience, educating them, getting them to consider how they might address fire preparedness at their own homes, and also how they feel about potential changes to management policies. This “rough draft” has confirmed that we can effectively engage audiences, share this information and provide answers to this difficult issue. Based on successful fundraising, our plan is to complete the presentation by May 2016 and begin the tour that will last through the 2016 and 2017 fire seasons. Our goal is to reach at least 10,000 people.

4. The whole presentation can be broken down into 15 or so short and digestible, topic-specific and highly shareable pieces of media. Once complete, we will share each of these pieces of media with our project partners and those whose mission it is to educate people about this issue. We’ve already seen high demand for the media created for the summit and expect increased demand for this media moving forward. We expect viewership of this media in the hundreds of thousands.

5. The Time is NOW! We need to get this critical information out NOW! The fires aren’t going away and they aren’t getting any smaller. The problem will continue to get worse unless we arm ourselves, our communities and our policy makers with scientifically-based, relevant information and tangible solutions.

Learn more about how to support our project at


Jeff Ostenson is executive director of North 40 Productions, a Wenatchee-based documentary film house.