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The Script

Mid Sierra Version Screenplay

Copyright © March 2015 by Steven P. Kennedy

The purpose of this film is to conserve wildlife, enhance habitat and especially to encourage local forest restoration initiatives through stewardship contracts on the Western slope of the Sierra Nevada. Your constructive criticism of this film script will be greatly appreciated. More information about the video project and the author is on our web site at www.canonbal.org.

Storyboard Sketches by:

Alex Mizuno


Alison Jeffs

We propose a soft sell fire safety video that will persuade people to do for mother nature what they aren’t always willing to do for themselves. Our goal is to get homeowners to take their fuel reduction problems seriously, in their back yards and beyond.

The target audience for this film is homeowners, age 35-85, living in the suburban wildlands interface zone. The perfect venue for this video is the annual meeting of a homeowner association.

Fire professionals may notice that no mention has been made in the script or the Chronology link about the hundred thousand acre King Fire. Our goal is to prevent another King Fire from happening again, not to fix blame for the disaster.

The goal of the opening scene at the Rail Side Café, is to introduce our protagonists and equate in the minds of our audience, the strength and power of a steam locomotive, with the strength and power of a runaway suburban forest fire.


Beginning of Screenplay

The Cannonbal acoustic guitar theme
was composed by Gerald McMullin...
mp3 file


This video is dedicated to the brave firefighters who fought the King Fire of 2014.

Opening Clips with footage from the King Fire.

1) Fire trucks with sirens and lights

2) Diagonal flame-fire in the tree tops

3) Marching firefighters

4) Helicopter

5) Air Tanker

6) Smoke in the air

7) Wind blowing tree branches

8) Untouched house with green lawn and lawn mower

9) Smoke wafting across the lake

10) Damage report by Sheriff

11) Burned homes and cars

12) Forest service update- the benefits of fuel reduction projects

13) Angry man with question

14) Weather report

Video Clips of the Western slope of the Sierra, snow capped mountains, red sunset, city lights, sparkling streams and green pastures.

Voice Over Narration:

El Dorado County is a beautiful place isn't it? Where else can you find such beautiful natural scenery so close to good schools, good friends and high paying jobs in the gaming, skiing and tourist industries?

Not surprisingly, many of the homes in your neighborhood are owned by out of town families who visit occasionally and aren’t aware of the fire risk their vacation homes face every summer. Out of sight. Out of mind as it were. They say that one person’s dream is another person’s nightmare and for Fire Marshals like me, this neighborhood has become a hundred million dollar disaster, waiting to happen. Like the residents of Pollock Pines discovered in July of 2014, your forest, your house and your neighborhood, could all be gone tomorrow.

With you and most of your neighbors concentrating on making a living, we’ve concluded that a more imaginative approach to fire safety is needed. We all know what it is like to be controlled by forces we cannot name, yet sense are omniscient. Having said that, I’ll quit preaching to the choir, forego the usual lecture on defensible space and give you something beautiful instead. So climb aboard The Cannonball Express and enjoy the show.


Sketch by Alex Mizuno


PAN to elegantly dressed COUPLE (Helen and Jess).


Couple sits at dining table between The Yosemite Mountain-Sugar Pine Rail Side Station Cafe and the forest.

Couple enjoys brunch.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

Sound f/x locomotive nears

rush of fore wind. . .

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Narrator) (Voice 0ver) Trains are a lot like suburban brushfires. They come and they go in the wink of an eye.

Yet, the memory of their passing lives on, long after the smoke has cleared.


head-on shot…locomotive barrels down

(Title Shot) The Vegetation Management Video Project Committee Presents

The Cannonball Express

PASSING TRAIN RATTLES table contents & RUFFLES couple’s composure.

(Jesse) What was that?

(Waiter) The Cannonball Express, an historic steam engine. Wasn’t she beautiful? (waiter exits)

(Helen) You just need a cup of coffee.

(Jesse) I don’t need a cup of coffee after that.

(Helen) Jesse, we need to talk.

(Jesse) About what?

(Helen) About the house.

(Jesse) I thought it was perfect. It is perfect. It’s amazing. It’s everything we dreamed about.

(Helen) No, not quite. The Fire Marshal said…..

(Jesse) What were you doing talking to the Fire Marshal?

(Helen) You didn’t even notice. A house down the street nearly burned to the ground. And I got really worried. Do you know we can’t get any decent fire insurance because the insurance companies have red lined our entire neighborhood? It doesn’t make any sense to me because I thought you took care of it.

(Jesse) They haven’t red lined it. They are just limiting their exposure. Anyway, it’s beautiful, its quiet, it’s a great place to raise a family. And there’s not much we can do about it now. We’ve already moved in. I’ve got a friend from volleyball and he can come and take care of the whole thing for us, no problem..

(Helen) Ok, but I don’t think we can afford that. Ok look, talk to who ever you need to. Just go buy some gloves because we have some work to do.

(Helen slaps money down on table and leaves.)

(Jesse puts glasses on and obviously distressed, thinks deeply, scratching his chin.)

Mt xxxxx – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Even before the devastation of the King Fire of 2014, it became apparent to government officials from many different agencies that communities nestled in the hills and valleys of the Sierras were in mortal danger.

DAGUERREOTYPE SHOTS of Native Americans burning brush.

(Narrator) (V. O.) Where the Native Americans used to burn oak and pine forests in the Sierras every three to five years, there are now dense stands of brush, trees and deep accumulations of branches, leaves and pine cones on the ground. More than enough for a cannonball run.

Freight train blasts by on downhill grade– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) At one agency, the local water district, officials were concerned that a major fire would complicate the water treatment process.

Animal wildlife in forest – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) USDA Forest Service biologists were also concerned about the impact a major fire would have on native plants, fish and animal communities. The Forest Service is responsible a huge percentage of the land in the Sierras.

(Narrator) (V. O.) Given wide-spread public opposition to smoke from controlled burning, congestion from additional truck traffic and noise from chain saws, it was evident that a new approach was needed. Hand crews cost up to $5,000 an acre, so mechanized fuel reduction projects that cost less than $2,000 per acre, were started. But labor and equipment maintenance costs were high so large tracts of forest went untouched. These crews had still thinned a considerable amount of acreage, prior to the King Fire.

Vegetation shots – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) The US Forest Service has worked since 1987 to reduce fuel loads in the Sierras. Thousands of acres await initial treatment. The problem is that thinned land needs follow up work every 10 to 20 years. How can this forest maintenance be funded while initial treatment of fuel heavy forest acreage demands attention and scarce tax dollars?

Ext. forests and suburbs – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) With funding a perennial problem, agencies struggled to reduce the risk of a catastrophic wildfire while protecting other resources. The stakes were high. In the Sierras, the residents have relied on pure water pumped from deep aquifers. The high property loss of the King Fire means that toxic runoff from burned homes, cars and garages full of paint, pesticide and fertilizer that seeps deep into the aquifer, could negatively affect the water supply for decades. A plume of foul tasting toxic seepage could drift towards the water table and the rivers, for years. Tons of burned debris has been removed from lots in the Pollock Pines area. Rebuilding will create it’s own set of debris removal and water pollution problems. The cumulative effect of this decade long environmental insult to the water supply is unknown.

Mountain vista– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Creeks in the affected watersheds, generally flow into Folsom Reservoir. With Seasonal rainfall expected to return to normal levels soon and consequent post fire erosion expected to further impact the water supply, environmental concerns put the fuel reduction dilemma into the hands of the people, including individual homeowners and small wood lot owners whose property backs up to a forested hillside or canyon. There just isn’t enough tax money available or the political will power to tackle the whole fuel reduction problem in the Sierra Nevada, in perpetuity.

Ext. work crew clearing pine duff and trees– day

(Narrator) (V. O.) On the roadsides there are mechanized work crews doing fuel removal projects. You’ve seen the brush piles left behind by hand crews. But, all of these crews are generally restricted by their contracts to work on high priority projects on public property such as National Forests.

Land around private home – day

(Narrator) (V. O.) Private homeowners and wood lot owners whose fire threat arises from land outside the scope of these work crews may sometimes need permits but can always hire independent contractors or do the work themselves.

Ext. Heavily forested hillside – day

PAN view of suburbia below.

(Narrator) (V. O.) In the larger scheme, a public private approach is necessary. (PAUSE) Let’s meet one of those independent contractors who’ll share some secrets of good forest management.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

The Tree Cutter’s Lesson

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce the tree cutter, his tools and techniques to the homeowner and the homeowner association. This will help homeowners decide whether to hire a professional or do the work themselves.

Susan Donaldson, a weed expert and Ph.D at UNR, provided much appreciated advice for this scene re: weeds and erosion.

CAMERA FINDS BRIAN WALLACE, arms smeared with pitch and sawdust, as he cuts tree branches with a chainsaw. (NOTE: this scene represents a perfect opportunity for a lucrative product placement fee donated by a chainsaw manufacturer to defray the cost of miscellaneous video production expenses)

(Brian) STOPS.

Removes face shield. SEES Jess

(Jesse) Sorry to barge in on you like this.

(Brian) No problem. How’s the fixer upper? (Takes a sip of water from canteen. Sits down at crude table.)

(Jesse) It’s a half million dollar headache if you ask me.

(Brian) Aren’t they all?

(Jesse) Yeah, but it’s better than downtown Sacramento. I tell ya, hearing the birds sing in the forest is like watching a beautiful sunrise.

(Brian) Yeah

(Jesse) But I can think of a lot of things I should have noticed on the first walk through. Like the smoke detector going off all night. (with irritation) Anyway, Helen has this nesting instinct and all the trees around the place are making her nervous. She wants to do all the painting because she’s artistic. The problem is, she wants me to do the landscaping and I don’t know the first thing about gardening. Green thumb? I’ve got a bad case of mouse finger.

(Brian) The first thing you ought to do is get a ladder and clean out the rain gutters. Then measure the windows for storm shutters.

Take the numbers down to the hardware store, load up some plywood and the clerks will take care of the rest for you. And if a window ever gets broken, replace it with those argon gas filled, double paners. The argon is heat insulating and it will prevent your drapes from catching fire. (This factoid courtesy of Steve Chilton, a branch chief with TRPA.)

So what do you need?

Jesse: Can you come over and help us out?

(Brian) I wish I could. I’m booked solid for weeks.

(Jesse) Can you recommend anyone?

(Brian) Well, truth be told, it’s not as hard as it looks. There’s a lot you can do with a wheel barrow, a rake, some loppers, a bow saw and a pole saw. I bet you could do your place in a week end, three days tops.

(Jesse) It makes me tired just thinking about it.

(Brian) Well, look at this place, I figure another three hours on this project and I’ll have it clean as a whistle. You know, my business card says I’m with Bushwhackers Tree Service but that gives people the wrong impression.

Jesse: Like you go around whacking bushes ?

(Brian) You’re sick, Jesse, sick. And No, actually, that I’m some kind of a tree surgeon. I mean, I’ll take out ugly clumps of dwarf mistletoe from branches, if they want me to, for New Years eve or whatever, but actually, most of what I do is tree removal. We’ll also do trimming near power lines, windows and chimneys, topping, selective logging, brush chipping, stump grinding and wood splitting. Most guys in my trade use boom lifts but I prefer to strap on spurs and climb the tree the old fashioned, lumber jack way. It’s safe, if you know how to do it. I’ve been at this for 12 years and I’ve never taken a fall.

(Brian beams.)

QUICK CUT to Brian climbing and rappelling down a tall tree trunk.

(Brian feeds tree branches into grinder.)

(Brian) (V. O.) Usually, one hour of climbing and cutting makes for two man hours of grinding and hauling away.

(Back to Brian)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno


(Brian GESTURES towards the house.)

(Brian) Now, while I’m being paid by the homeowner to reduce the risk that a fire might ROAR up the hill and take out his house. I am a member of the Sierra Club. And I do take the environment into consideration when I’m deciding what goes and what stays.

(Brian RISES. Walks towards tree.)

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Brian) Take this pine for example. The loggers took out all the big Ponderosa pines to shore up the mine shafts in the Virginia City mines, build railroads, hotels and houses. By 1900, most of the easy timber been clear cut. Back then, if a tree was left standing in a clear cut, they called it a mistake, not a seed tree. They were too busy building a nation to care. What came up over the decades was a thick forest of brush and shade loving, white fir. The brush grows up to 12feet tall and the firs hold on to their dead branches for years. Now the brush fields have tons of fuel per acre and the high altitude firs are old, mostly diseased, stressed by drought and dying off from infestations of pine bark beetles. Now, all that dry wood is just waiting to burn. The wood should be burning safely in a mobile co-generation plant with a smoke scrubber and generating electricity for working families, not laying around causing problems.


(CLOSE UP Brian’s arms smeared with pitch and sawdust.)

(Jesse) Had any close encounters with wildlife lately?

(Brian) Not recently but I’ve seen some amazing critters in those trees. I see lots of hawks and owls. An occasional eagle eating a fish or rodent. Most of ‘em I like but when the squirrels chatter at me, I know they’re just jealous of my climbing ability. Usually if I’m up there cutting, they’ll jump to another tree or come down the back side of the trunk. I topped one tree with a squirrel in the top branches and he rode it down like Doctor Strangelove and ran off. I guess he felt lucky that day.

(Jesse) He should have been playing the lottery !

(Brian) Yeah. Pretty much.

(Brian looks around.)

(Brian) Don’t tell my wife about that one. She thinks the rascals are cute.

(Jess) reaction shot of shared mirth

(Brian sizes up his work thus far.)

(Brian) When I started on this project, it was really thick here. I’ve already made several trips to the dumps and it’s starting to look pretty good. (Brian’s arms stretch out towards the hill.) Look how steep this hill is! It could have been done with a boom truck but climbing a tree causes a lot less erosion than shoveling dirt and bringing in a truck. When I’m done clearing, I’ll re-seed it with wild flowers and grasses that are native to this area. (Makes a throwing motion as if scattering seed.) I told the homeowner, I could make it look like a park.

(Jess) I’m starting to get the picture.


(Brian stands at pile of debris.)

(Brian) Most of what I take out is oak, fir, scarlet campion and brush.

(Brian extracts a campion plant from ground.)

(Brian) Scarlet campion is the worst of the exotics. It is beautiful but it is terribly invasive. You can still get Yellow Toadflax at some plant nurseries as an ornamental. It is invasive too. And if you can’t buy it then your clueless neighbors will give you some. That stuff comes in and the wildlife heads for the door.

(Turns campion over in his hand.)

(Brian) We just don’t have any insects or animals that go to town on campion. It looks nice. Got a pretty flower that bees like…but, it just takes over. It lines the logging roads in some areas. All it takes is some disturbed soil and a single seed to get an infestation going. The Invasive Weed Coordinating Group works harder than I do to map and control all kinds of weeds.

(Tosses campion onto pile.)

(Brian) Campion comes back quickly from seeds dropped the previous year. I’ll make a follow-up visit in six months to yank out volunteers.

There’s another one called knapweed. It occasionally comes in mixed with the mud on bulldozers treads, on loads of timber or framing from the Rocky Mountain states. It will even come in on an airplane that lands on weedy runways. The sediment yields of a football field size infestation of knapweed can be double that of a hillside covered with native bunch grasses and the rain water run off can be 50% higher.

(Author’s Note: these stats from a research study published in Weed Technology in 1989 per weed expert Susan Donaldson)

Roofs and decks aren’t half the problem that weeds are when it comes to pumping topsoil into the lake.

That run off means no soaking in and no ground water for the trees late in the summer. Knapweed and pepperweed acreage usually increases following a wildfire burn. The stuff just won’t die. A creeping ground cover called pinemat manzanita is good for keeping the weeds down if you want to invest the time and money to get it established.

(Brian walks up hill.)

(Brian) The natives that grow back here attract deer and rabbits with succulent new growth. The only trees I’m eager to take out are the ones that just don’t belong.

(FLAPS hand at digger pine)

(Brian) White fir is high on my list. It’s a native but it smells bad when it burns, it sucks up too much water and it contributes to global warming. It’s not even any good for lumber. Get this. Snow reflects winter sunlight back into space, right? Dark green fir branches absorb the heat and leaves it floating around here on earth. I never thought I’d complain about Sierra rivers being too warm. Go figure


(Jesse) What about the King fire?

(Brian) (V. O.) A friend of mine from my firefighting days told me the duff layer was several feet deep in that area.

(Jesse) Wow ! No wonder they couldn’t stop it.

(Back to scene – day)

(Brian stands before thick brush)

(Brian) Hardware stores had a run on saws, rakes and loppers all over town the week of the fire. (Shakes his head sadly) Too little! Too late! A lot of the homes that survived had lush green lawns out front and bare ground in the back, which saved the house but screwed the Reservoir with nitrates and erosion. Where the fire got into the canopy along those streets, that was from houses going up. And all those long neglected piles of logs and branches didn’t help either.

(Brian down at truck.)

(Brian) Once the initial cleaning is done, annual vegetation management is easy. No real secret to what I do. Just be careful with the tools and watch out for power lines.

(Puts tools in truck.)

(Brian) Lots of my customers do the annual maintenance themselves, but, I keep tabs on ‘em. Good for business. Ol’ Bri is the cheapest fire insurance around.

(Brian waves to leave. Turns back.)

(Brian) Want to know more about native plants? Go see Jon Bellows.

(Jesse) From Sierra Club volleyball?

(Brian) Yeah that’s him. He knows more than me. Shoot! He even grows ‘em and eats them.

(Jesse) Hey, thanks for the advice.

(Brian) No problem. And if you break a leg falling out of a tree….don’t come running to me.

(Jesse) (laughs) I won’t. (waves good-bye to Brian.)

The Naturalist’s Scene

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents (who didn’t go to school locally) to the history of the area and to the plants and animals that can still be found in the nearby national forests (and often roaming through their neighborhoods at night).

Ext. canyon – day

CAMERA PANS canyon to Folsom Lake.

Ext. hillside with garden– day

Pile of pine needles and folded blue plastic tarp lay on ground.

Jon Bellows, athletic, outdoorsman, wood sculptor, methodically rakes up needles, separating out the pine cones.

(Jon) Hey, I know you. Don’t you play volleyball at Oak Ridge High?

(Jesse) I hack at it. I get in a good spike once in a while.

(Jon) Brian let me know you were coming. What do you need to know?

(Jesse) Brian said you knew a lot about native plants.

(Jon) Stalking the elusive sitanion hystrix are you?

(Jesse) I guess so.

(Jon sets aside rake. APPROACHES Jessie. Points to FENCE.)

(Jon) (Pointing) See that? I built that fence myself. Got my flower garden in there and my bee hive. (Motions with head) There’s deer in that canyon. And they’re hungry! Those succulent native grasses are for them. The garden’s for me. We have a short growing season and I need to make the most of it. I couldn’t find a bear proof fence so I built that beehive out of sheets of Kevlar I got from a kayak factory in Sacramento. That’s why it is outside the fence. It’s bullet proof. It’s anchored deep in the ground. After I replaced the Phillips head screws with somethin’ easier they started calling me “Wing Nut”. Hey, I just wanted to be able to pull out the frames.

(Jesse) reaction shot - chuckles

(Jon) Even the baddest bears give up on the idea of stealing honey from my hive after they’ve swatted it a few times and nothin’ happens except for a few bee stings on the nose. It takes a couple of hours for the bees to settle down and there’s no major damage to the bear. Ya know, African villagers have figured out that the elephants that raid their crops and get drunk on their corn mash are afraid of bees. The elephants get those angry African bees inside their trunks and ouch!, they head for the hills. So the agronomists tell the farmers to place their hives strategically and are working on a little battery powered device that buzzes like a hive of bees. Clever huh? All I gotta do is get a recording of whatever animal a black bear is scared of, a grizzly bear or Godzilla or whatever. I’ve heard that used kitty litter, full of clumps and whatever, will keep a bear away from your trash can. The bear’s instincts tell it that it’s a cougar and so the bear passes it by for easier pickin’s elsewhere.

(Jesse) Good idea.

(Jon) Anyway, about once a year a bunch of my bees take off with a new queen and find a new nest in a hollow log or somethin’. The black bears can have that honeycomb. I like my wild mountain honey and the wax is good for casting jewelry.


(Jon sits. Looks up hillside.)

(Jon) There’s bobcats out there. Raccoons. Porcupines, Tree squirrels. Cougars I suppose. An occasional coyote, the econobox of predators and song dog of Indian legend. There's a group called The BEAR League that teaches people and bears about the boundary lines and the rules that both species must follow to co-exist in this shared mountain forest. All I can say is you'll never catch me taking a snooze 60 feet up in a pine tree. I’ve seen so many of them now, I know what they smell like. Like a big wet dog, times a hundred. (This factoid courtesy of Beth Moxley, owner/president of Rockwood Tree Removal.)

The BEAR people are on a first name basis with a lot of those bears and they really get upset when people plant fruit trees in their yard and then get a depredation permit from Fish & Game because the bears are coming to dine in their yards and breaking branches off their apple trees. Then poor Oliver gets shot and another young bear moves into the neighborhood and does the same thing.

We have a lot more black bears in California than we did 30 years ago, so they are expanding their range into suburban California and Nevada. The animal comes with the territory and especially in a drought year when nuts and berries are hard to find in the back country. You live up here, sooner or later you’re going to bump into a bear and hopefully you won’t hit it with your car. At minimum, it will trigger your airbags. That’s $800 plus a radiator and it’s a tragedy when there are cubs involved, which are traumatized and have to be bottle fed or whatever. If astronauts are gonna hibernate on their 6 month trips to Mars and back, then we got to learn more about bear biology. Simple as that.

(Jesse) We’re gonna look like fools if the Russians or the Chinese get there first with the most.

(Jon) yeah-up The last thing we want is a shortage of bears.


(Jon) Yeah, I’m no rocket scientist but I do know a lot about native plants. I’m just getting into the grasses. I always assumed, the grasses were natural. But, no-oo! All of those hyper competitive annuals came over with the cows and sheep. Yup, this all used to be just logged over forest and overgrazed range land. Ya know. Fire doesn’t cause erosion. Fire and the hoof. Fire and the plow. Fire and the axe. That causes erosion. Scotch on the rocks. Rye on the rocks. Rum on the rocks. It’s not the ice cubes in your drink that gets you drunk. Anyway, let me show you what I’ve done so far. (cut away to grasses) They’re hard to re-establish once an area’s been disturbed. Some I bought in one gallon starter pots and some I planted as plugs from seed I got at a nursery.

(Jon HOLDS up pot.)

(Jon) This is pinegrass. It should do well, here, on the edge of the woodland with plenty of sunshine. It provides good forage and cover for wildlife. Good for controlling erosion. Tolerates sandy soil. Should grow about waist high.

(Jon picks up another plant.)

(Jon) This is a squirrel tail. Excellent for recovering areas overgrown with weeds.

(Jon pulls toadflax.)

(Jon) There’s not much that competes with toad flax. But, for fire protection, I’ve got blue bunch wheatgrass.

(Holds up pot.)

(Jon) It stays green late into summer without watering. So, it really has to be a hot day before it’ll burn. And, if I water once in a while, it really shouldn't. It’s also longest lived of the native grasses, so it’ll be here for awhile. I’m going to plant a lot of this. Here, take a packet of native grass seed. I’ve got plenty of it.

(Jesse) Thanks.

(Jon walks over to tarp.)

(Jon) And this stuff?

(FOOT POKES pile of pine needles on tarp.)

(Jon) Is going straight into the gully.

WALKS OVER to gully.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Jon) This ditch wasn’t near this deep when I was a kid. (DUMPS IT IN) And this is just from street run-off. See the end of the culvert, there.

They finally built an infiltration pool and lined it with cobbles.

(Pan to culvert)

(Jon) (V. O.) If all the vegetation on this hill was burned off in a fire, there’d be massive amounts of run-off every time it rained. There’d be nothing to throw in the ditch to stop the run-off.

Steady cam GOES WITH Jon’s return to work area. Grabs rake. Leans on it.

(Jon) There’s a gully across the canyon, there, that’s thirty feet deep with SHEER walls.

(Pan to gully)

(Jon) When it rains, all the water from the storm drains pours down this canyon, then, out to the river. No chance to soak into the ground. It’s kind of like what happens with a bad fire.

(QUICK CUT TO King Fire)

(Jon) (V. O.) The pine needles in the soil gets so hot, the resins in the pitch can form a hydrophobic layer like wax cardboard, where the water can’t penetrate. It just runs off. That’s why there’s these terrible floods after every major fire. Dry country flash floods are a sight to behold.

(Stock shot of multicolored and sinuous, desert canyon wall)

(Jon) (V. O.) Water can’t soak in. There’s nothing to hold it. Mud City. Then, things dry up. People build a few more houses, it all grows back and the whole thing happens again. Crazy! The time to stop erosion is before it gets serious, you know.

(Jesse) There’s got to be a better way.

(Jon) Indeed ! Hey, tell Brian I said he should get a REAL job.

(Jesse) I will and thanks for the grass seed. I’ll see you at volleyball.

(Ext. Day Jesse leaves. Envelope stuffed with grass seed drops onto car seat. Jon kneels to tend his grass plugs. )

End of Naturalist’s Scene

(Narrator) As we’ve seen, there are several different varieties of fuel reduction. If you’ve gotten the go ahead, you can do it yourself or pay to have it done.

(Narrator) (cont.) The wise homeowner who gets this far will re-plant with fire-resistant shrubs or native grasses. Even in the poorest soil, this will provide year-round protection from erosion and fire and be a source of beauty as well.

The Botanist’s Scene

Note: The goal of this scene is to introduce residents to local botany and to native plants that will:

a) offer little in the way of fuel to an oncoming forest fire

b) hold the soil in place during a heavy rain or sudden snow melt

c) offer food and shelter to wildlife such as quail

d) bloom in the spring time

Note: The plants mentioned in this scene are from an article written by Ed Smith, a Natural Resource Specialist with UNR Cooperative Extension. More information was offered by the botanically minded Shelly Perry. Further suggestions on appropriate plants are greatly appreciated.

(Ext. Front Yard Nursery – day)

(Narrator) (cont.) Let’s see how our newly enlightened first-time homeowners will simultaneously manage a fuel break for beauty, erosion control, habitat and fire protection.

CAMERA FINDS AND GOES WITH SUV as it cruises Mother Lode Drive past motels, restaurants and coffee shops.

TURNS INTO Front Yard Nursery.

Station wagon parks on shoulder. EXIT Helen.

Helen wears a long dress. HOLDS long shopping list in hand.

Blue Jay CALLS

Helen walks to office. Pokes head in.

(Helen) Hello-oh! Anybody here?

No reply.

WALKS down path looking at plants and garden art.

Female nursery WORKER clad in blue jeans approaches.

Slips cordless phone in back pocket.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Worker) Good morning. Can I help you?

(Helen) I want to buy some plants.

(Helen hands list to worker. Reads down list.)

(Worker) Some of these we have. Some we don’t. What kind of garden are you trying to grow?

(Helen) It’s not a garden. It’s to protect the house…from fire. My husband and I want good plants out back.

(Worker) You mean fire resistant? Plants that hold the soil?

(Helen nods.)

(Worker) I can help you. How many square feet?

(Helen) Our lot is about eighty feet wide. Some forest service men came in. The area they cleared is from here to that big tree.

Ext. Day Tall pine with wind chimes on lower branches.

(Worker) That’s about fifty feet.

(Helen) And, it’s all downhill.

Ext. Shot- Helen and Jessie’s property on side of hill – day

Burnt soil in back of house.

(Worker) (V. O.) Fifty by eighty. That’s four thousand square feet. One bush every ten square feet. That’s about four hundred plants.

(Helen) (V. O.) (In shock) Four hundred? Oh, no. Not that many. That won’t even fit in my car. (giggles) And money doesn’t grow on bushes, you know.

(Back to Front Yard Nursery)

(Worker brings wheelbarrow for Helen. Cameo shot opportunity for VIP/supporter here)

(Worker) Why don’t you put in the wheelbarrow whatever you can afford? I’ve also got wild flower seed you can plant yourself.

(Helen) Oh, wonderful. My children will love that. The workmen burned all that slash last week. Can we plant the seeds in the ash?

(Worker) Oh yes. Ash is good fertilizer. And the heat from the fire sterilizes the soil and kills the weed seed.

Any of the seed that doesn’t sprout this year, will sprout next year. It might have migrated downhill a little bit from the rain but its always worth the wait.

Ext. Helen and Jess’s property – day

(Helen) (V. O.) There was so much duff. And that blackened scar is so ugly. But, I guess they had to do it.

(Worker) (V. O.) Yes, pine needles keep on dropping.

Ext. King Forest Fire – day

(Worker) (V. O.) Forest fires have been part of the El Dorado County landscape for thousands and thousands of years. That is, until we came along. Anyway, after a fire, most forests will come back. Even stand replacing fires often leave islands of green among the charred ruin of the forest.

When a fire creeps downhill at night it usually isn’t doing much damage.

(Back to Front Yard Nursery)

(Helen and Worker push wheelbarrow down path.)

(Helen) (shocked) Does that mean that most of what the workers hauled away will be back?

(Worker) In time, yes. Unless you clear it yourself. Or, establish these plants, nearby. (holds Helen’s list) They’ll compete for available water and sunlight and keep saplings from getting a toe hold.

(Helen) (shakes head) I don’t like paying for permits and all that red tape.

(Worker) What permits ? County regs don’t cover normal veg management unless you plan to do some major digging or take out major trees.

(Helen) You’re right.

(Worker) All the natives are fire adapted. The plants on your list can be heavily pruned when they get too big. Then, vigorously, re-sprout like nothing happened.

(Helen) What do you have that’s on my list?

(ext. dogwood)

(Worker) (V. O.) We have dogwood. That’s over here. It has beautiful fall colors and bright red, bare branches all Winter long.

(Worker lifts one)

(Worker) They’re five bucks each and do best with some drip irrigation.

(Helen) We’ve got that installed already. I’ll take four.

(Worker hands Helen a dogwood in black plastic container. Tears off sprig from another plant. Crumples it.)

(Worker) Here, smell this.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno

(Helen) (sniffs) Oh, that’s wonderful!

(Worker) It’s Sage. When it’s in bloom, the fragrance is heavenly. (PAUSE) This species is deer resistant and does best in full sun.

It also attracts butterflies.

Where do you live? Are you near the Lake?

(Helen) Sort of, we’re in El Dorado Hills.

(Worker) Does the hillside get afternoon sun?

(Helen) Morning.

(Worker) That puts you on a south facing slope. Fires burn hotter on the south face of a slope.

(Helen) And, we’re at the top of the hill.

(Worker) That’s a double-whammy.

(Helen) My husband insists we do everything fire safe.

(Ext. man on ladder cleans rain gutters – day)

(Helen) Every month, he’s up on the ladder, cleaning pine needles out of the rain gutters. He even wants to go in with a neighbor for one of those foam spray units to cover the house with foam.

(Int. Nursery aisle – day)

(Helen and Worker push wheelbarrow. Worker picks up another plant container.)

(Worker) This Mahala Mat or Squaw Carpet likes to grow on hillsides in part-shade. It stays very low and spreads widely without being invasive. That means it won’t be a good ladder fuel and carry flame into the tree branches. It is very fire resistant and deer resistant too. This ground cover, pinemat manzanita, (Arctostaphylos nevedensis) does a good job of holding soil. Also, it provides cover and food for mountain quail. A lower altitude alternate is Kinnikinick or Bear Berry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) Did you see our resident flock of quail, driving in?

(Helen) No, but I heard them. Such a beautiful sound.

(Worker) That’s the male calling his flock together.

(Helen) How much for the squaw carpet?

(Worker) One gallon container - $6. 00 each.

(Helen) I’ll take five. Do you take VISA?

(Worker) Of course.

(Wild strawberry plants.)

(Worker) (V. O.) There’s sulfur flower buckwheat and phlox over here. The buckwheat’s an herbaceous perennial. Needs a little water, now and then.

(Helen) (V. O.) No problem, there.

(Worker) (V.O.) Phlox is just wonderful.

(Ext: plants-day)

(Worker) They offer the best fire retardation and drought resistance.

You’re lucky you came here. Not all nurseries carry these native plants. Silly isn’t it?

(Helen) (V. O.) (Excited) Yeah! Let’s round out the wheelbarrow with those and come back for more.


(Helen) You’re a long way from the nearest fire station. What precautions have you against fire?

(Worker) A fire evacuation plan, if worst comes to worst. We’ve got a

rain barrel, where Kermit, our resident yellow legged frog hangs out. We use it to store rain water from the gutters, for spot fires.

(Worker) If it's half full, that's at least four big paint buckets of water we can throw at it.

We can pump water from the well. We’ve got floating, gas powered porta-pumps

to drop in the fish ponds if the electricity goes out.

(Coiled up fire hose)

(Worker) We’ve got fire hose all coiled up and… (Ladders against rear side of storage shed)

(Worker) (cont.)…a bunch of ladders against the back of that shed, in case, the embers start falling on our heads.

Sketch by Alex Mizuno


(Helen and Worker arrive)

(Helen) You know, getting fire insurance these days is difficult. They won’t write a new policy unless someone else drops out.

(Worker) Tell me about it. A lot of my neighbors own their homes, free and clear and don’t even have fire insurance. It is not required and a lot of them don’t want to spend an extra thousand bucks a year on homeowner’s insurance. They know the value of the property is in the land, not in the 50 year old cabin that sits on it. Some lots are worth more without a home than with one. Go figure.

(Helen and Worker unload wheelbarrow.)

(Worker) Plants we can re-grow. Greenhouses can be rebuilt. If we had to evacuate, there’re a few plants I’d grab. But I wouldn’t take any chances.

(Helen) (nods) Not worth the risk.

(Worker) (shrugs) A fire would prove how fire-adapted these natives are. It’d set us back but we’d recover. We all fear the worst, but hope for the best.

(Helen) It’s just one of those things you have to plan for.

(Worker) All of my friends who survived the big fire say it pays to be prepared.

(Helen) You know people who survived The King Fire?

(Worker) (triumphantly) Oh sure. My sister-in-law came through with flying colors.

(Helen) I'd love to talk to her. First hand experience is hard to beat.

(Worker) I can arrange that. Let me give her a call and ask if Ingrid can spare you a few minutes. I was going to deliver this packet of wildflower seeds I got but you can save me the trip.

(Helen) Ok. I can do that.

(Worker) (pulls out cell phone and talks softly while Helen loads up the car)

(Worker) I've got it all set up. She's expecting you. On your way out of town, take a right on Ice Mountain Road and head into Pollock Pines. She lives on Grizzly Mountain Court. You can't miss it. There's a sign above the front door that says, "Casa Vanderheiden". It's the only house on the block that didn't burn.

(Helen) Thank you so much. I'll be sure to give her the seeds. And when I get home, the first container I’m going to plant is the sage. Whenever I smell it, I’ll be reminded of you and my first visit to Front Yard.

(Worker) Thanks, and you'll like Ingrid. She a great friend. See you next time.

(Helen waves and drives off)

(End of Botanist’s Scene)
The Survivor's Scene

The purpose of this scene is to teach homeowners what to do before, during and after a suburban forest fire.

(Helen parks her car, exits and approaches Ingrid, who is working on a motorcycle on the driveway.)

(Ingrid) (rubbing her greasy hands on a rag) Hi. How ya doin?

(Helen) Oh Pretty good. Nice bike.

(Ingrid) Thanks. It gets me there.

(Helen) Karen, over at the nursery, asked me to deliver this packet of seeds and uh,...I thought I could ask a few questions and get some tips on surviving a forest fire. (hands the packet to Ingrid)

(Ingrid) Sure, I'd be glad to. Oh this is neat. What have we got here? (reading the contents....)
Lupine, blanket flower, durar hard fescue, blue flax, Rocky Mountain penstemon, sulfur buckwheat, Siberian wallflower and scarlet gilia. hmmm...
This place could use a little color and some erosion control. (camera pans dead trees and fire blackened tree trunks.

(Helen) So where were you when the fire started?

(Ingrid) Oh, at home. Doin' the usual. I think I was on the computer when I heard the first siren. I didn't think much of it but then I saw the column of smoke goin' up and up. When they didn't have it out in the first 15 minutes then I knew it wasn't a house on fire. And then I started movin'. We already had the defensible space and the fire safe landscaping in place, Thank God.

(Helen) So what did you do?

(Ingrid) Well, the thing was, I didn't know how much time I had. So I did the most obvious things first. I put the bike in the metal storage shed. I turned the car around in the driveway and turned on the car radio so I could hear the emergency bulletins. I put an extension ladder up against the house so I could check the rain gutters for pine needles and left it there for the firemen. I got the garden hose and started spraying water like crazy. I think I even squirted water into the attic through the air vents. I filled buckets. I wet down the deck and soaked the garden. I set up the sprinkler and started grabbin' stuff out of the house.

(Helen) Like what?

(Ingrid) Oh and I called some neighbors and rang some doorbells. But they weren't home. I dunno. Stuff? Well let's see. I got my jewelry and Carl's saddle. That went into the trunk of the car. I grabbed what financial records I could find and some pictures and DVD's and stuffed them into my pillow case. I must have looked like a burglar runnin' out the door like that. I was looting my own house!

(Helen) I guess

(Ingrid) And then I heard more and more sirens and started smellin' that smoke and then I started goin' nuts. I yanked down the drapes and curtains away from the windows. I closed the blinds. I shoved the couch away from the picture window so the radiant heat wouldn't catch it on fire. I closed every door in the house. I said good by to the fish in the tank. I really didn't think this place was goin' to survive, but it did.

(Helen) You were really lucky.

(Ingrid) I guess so, but so many of our neighbors never bothered with the basics.
And they came home to piles of junk and ash.

(Helen) I saw it on the news.

(Ingrid) It was really sad. Go figure. And now it's hammers and power saws, all day, every day. The place will never be the same again. Most of our neighbors will be strangers again or people on vacation. It's really heart breaking. And now I've got survivor's guilt to cope with because I did the smart thing. We're going to have to paint and remodel this place now, just to keep up with the Jones's. This fire was like urban redevelopment I tell you. Wiped the slate clean.

(Helen) I guess so. I quit counting the destroyed buildings on my way in here when I got to thirty something.

(Ingrid) The total was over 75 but the economic damage to the economy of El Dorado County was probably more like a billion dollars. Tourists will be looking at that fire scar on the mountains for decades and residents will be wondering what happened to their nice view from the balcony.

(Helen) Yeah, I suppose. Thanks for the tips.

(Ingrid) Whatever. I hope you never need to use any of it and if you do, just remember that its not over until the last pitch of the last inning. I mean, you could have a little fire smoldering in the attic and not realize it because the smell of smoke in the air is so over powering.

(Helen) Yeah, that's right, 'cause fires really stink. Its like living in a bad neighborhood. You have to keep your eyes open all the time.

(Ingrid) One bad fire can ruin your whole day.

(Helen) I'd rather have a bad case of guilt and deal with clutter than have to start all over with nothing.

(Ingrid) That's it. Keep those two by fours, standing up in the forest and prevent global warming.

(Helen) Right! Can I come back in the spring and check out your flower garden?

(Ingrid) Sure. I'll look forward to seeing you.

(Helen) Thanks. I'll bring you some more flower seeds.

(Ingrid) bye (waving as Helen drives away).

(fade out)

(End of The Survivor's Scene)

Closing: King Fire clip: Smoking ruins of a house

Epilogue Screen #1:

The King Fire of 2014 caused millions in property damage, cost over 90 million precious tax dollars to fight and left families homeless. This stupendous damage tally continues to climb as tourism falls off, toxic run off enters Folsom Lake, the aquifer’s drinking water becomes tainted with carcinogens and burned area recovery teams struggle to control erosion and re-seed burned hill sides. A long lasting Wikipedia entry describes the King Fire as a billion dollar fire and if the weather had been worse, of course, the damage tally would have been much worse.

Epilogue Screen #2:

A lot more than a forest burned in the King Fire. Turnover in Pollock Pines will probably be close to 70% as old time families sell out and the nouveau riche take advantage of bare lots and bargain real estate prices. Animals suffered too, as they tried to escape the flames. Most of the animal victims had only faint collective memories of wild fire and so, few instincts to guide them. A lot of good wildlife habitat was destroyed and even with land rehabilitation, will take decades to return to what it once was.

Epilogue Screen #3:

A fire this socially and environmentally destructive does not have to happen again, although there may be other severe wildfires in El Dorado County in coming years. Keep your ears open, for the sound of The Cannonball Express.

Epilogue Screen #4

This film was funded with grants from the …………………..

(Closing Credits with Theme Music)


Steven P. Kennedy-Project Director

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