Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
KPBS Midday Edition

BURNED: Yearlong investigation reveals how stalled U.S. Forest Service projects expose California communities to catastrophic wildfires

A gas leak burns the day after the Caldor Fire hit Walter Tyler Elementary School in Grizzly Flats, California, Tuesday, August 17, 2021.
Andrew Nixon
/
CapRadio
A gas leak burns the day after the Caldor Fire hit Walter Tyler Elementary School in Grizzly Flats, California, Tuesday, August 17, 2021.

Wildfires in California have grown increasingly extreme and devastating in the last decade.

BURNED, a yearlong investigation from the California Newsroom, reveals how the U.S. Forest Service is struggling to complete the work it knows it must do to keep Californians safe from wildfires. For decades, the agency has developed projects to thin and manage overgrown forests in an effort to reduce wildfire intensity. But those plans routinely stall out, and sometimes are abandoned completely.

The 2021 Caldor Fire destroyed most of Grizzly Flats, a foothills community in Northern California that borders Forest Service land.

CapRadio’s Scott Rodd investigated how the Forest Service took years to develop a large forest management project around Grizzly Flats, and only finished a small portion by the time the Caldor Fire ignited in 2021. The agency originally committed to finishing the 15,000-acre project by 2020.

Towns up and down California fear they could be next.

KCRW’s Caleigh Wells uncovered how the Forest Service tackles only a fraction of the prescribed burning work it needs to get done to protect communities in Southern California. The agency delayed or canceled multiple projects around Big Bear Lake, a popular tourist town surrounded by the San Bernardino National Forest. The town narrowly avoided disaster this year when the Radford Fire ignited.

CapRadio’s Scott Rodd and KCRW’s Caleigh Wells reported this special investigation. Additional reporting by George LeVines and Emily Zentner. It was edited by Adriene Hill and Mike Kessler of the California Newsroom, a collaboration of the state’s public radio stations.

Explore all national, state and local returns now.