This wildfire burned 380,000 acres, most of which were dead trees and brush in the Sierra National Forest and the land along the San Joaquin River watershed.
Until this year, the Creek Fire was considered the largest wildfire in California history.
“Everybody in the valley had a connection to the Creek Fire,” said Jeff Aeillo, Intern CEO of ValleyPBS and co-owner of 18Thirty entertainment.
The two hour documentary will show the first 48 hours of the wildfire while also including never before seen footage of the blaze from the men and women of the United States Forest Service and Cal Fire who were battling on the front lines.
The ValleyPBS company, alongside Aiello who had been working with them for six years, had embedded camera crews with Cal Fire to go into the actual Creek Fire burn area and get footage of both the burn and how Shaver Lake was saved by CalFire.
“Developing trust and contacts with both services allowed us to have access that nobody else got, and that just takes time and patience and a lot of waiting, but it worked out,” said Aiello.
They were able to do so by waiting and being patient through the process, which led to many team members from the company to develop trust and contacts with both services that allowed them to have access that nobody else was given.
“We are the only media and film crew that was given access to the lead investigator on the Creek Fire, and was able to learn the process of what they did for an entire year,” said Aiello.
There will also be real interviews of Creek Fire investigators on how they determined where and how the Creek Fire started based on clues they were able to find using investigation techniques seen in the film.
“There had been theories of what caused the fire, lightning was never one,” said Aiello. “When the Forest Service landed on lightning as the cause, everybody freaked out.”
When it comes to the cause of a fire there are three levels of certainty that forest service and all fire agencies universally use: excluded, possible, and the highest, probable.
The Forest Service released their press release saying that the cause of the fire was ‘undetermined/probable lightning.’
“Everybody stopped reading the press release after that, they didn’t read all the things the Forest Service investigation was sure it [the cause of the wildfire] wasn’t,” said Aiello.
After doing some research, it was discovered that lightning had hit in the area the wildfire broke out about a week prior to when it started.
“I learned that single trees hit by lightning can and often do hold fire within them for weeks before the fire makes their way out of the tree,” said Aiello.
Alongside the investigation and footage of the actual blaze, the film will also have testimonies from the firefighters who were actively working on the Creek Fire and the brotherhood of men and women fighting on the front lines.
“This was one of the first times, for Cal Fire specifically, that five of the battalion chiefs all worked together,” said Aiello, “it burned in their backyard and they were all fighting it together.”
“There’s an incredible story at the end of the film of hope, renewal and moving on,” said Aiello, “a family who lost their home and a story of their new home they found through a bizarre set of circumstances that you just can’t believe.”
In the midst of hurt, pain, anger and an overall bad situation that life put people through during this fire, it is important to see the good things that came to be as a result.
“Fire sucks, and no one really likes it,” said Aiello, “but it happens, it’s here, and while a lot of the trees are burned up, you now have views and vistas that you never had before, you could see further than you ever could.”
The documentary will also go over what causes megafires in the West, fire prevention methods, how victims rebuilt their lives after the devastation, and how the forest is healing.
“Everybody knows the cause, but won’t accept it,” said Aiello. “I think the biggest thing will be healing, when everybody watches this they’ll have a sense of closure that they might not have yet.”
The air date is Sept. 30 at 7p.m. on ValleyPBS, set after an outdoor screening at China Peak for first responders and families who were directly correlated with the Creek Fire.
“I will say this, have a kleenex ready when you’re watching this film,” said Aiello.