The Weekend’s TV: Wildfires 2014- Inside the Inferno, I Bought a Rainforest

This workaday look at the science  of wildfires lacks a bit of spark

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The Independent Culture

When the world’s coastal cities do eventually sink beneath the waves, having first been looted by populations starving after successive crop failures, survivors can always look forward to BBC2’s “Armageddon: Live”.

After all, it’s a formula that’s proving endlessly adaptable – and attractive to the BBC for whatever reason; and although last night’s Wildfires 2014: Inside the Inferno didn’t pretend to be “live”, it still harnessed the immediacy of such shows as Lambing Live, Stargazing Live and Volcano Live, as well as the services of those series’ co-presenter Kate Humble. In this way, what might have been a rather workaday episode of Horizon was here presented as “event television”.

Filmed in January, at the scorching height of the Australian summer and what the denizens of New South Wales call the “fire season”, this was an exhaustive look at the science and practice of preventing the state burning to a cinder.

Humble co-presented with Simon Reeve, a man with more stamps in his passport than even Michael Palin, who did the dangerous jumping-out-of-helicopters stuff, while Humble was sent to the safety of the fire-fighting HQ in Sydney.

It was a division of labour that some might call sexist and others might deem wise – Humble’s habit of vigorously nodding her head during interviews potentially fanning any flames in her vicinity.

Humble has a very earnest presentational style, looking like a woman who’d just been given a fatal medical diagnosis instead of a few facts and figures about the hundred or so incidents attended daily by the New South Wales Rural Fire Service and its 70,000 volunteers spread across an area larger than France.

Eucalyptus – the dominant species of tree hereabouts – is especially flammable because they shed their bark in a blaze, protecting their core but dispensing thousands of tiny sparks in the process.

I jotted down scores of facts like that, but I won’t bother you with them here. There’s another episode next week, should anyone’s burning curiosity remain un-doused.

The dedication and resources involved in saving just one tree is impressive (admittedly to prevent it igniting another tree, and then another tree and then suburban Sydney), and is the complete opposite of what is happening in the Peruvian Amazon, as captured in BBC2’s utterly brilliant I Bought a Rainforest (Sun).

To recap briefly, wildlife cameraman Charlie Hamilton James has purchased a hundred acres of the same in order to prevent illegal logging in Manu National Park. In this  week’s episode, Hamilton James decided  to see matters through the eyes of his enemies by joining loggers and gold miners in their labours.

In pursuit of pitifully small amounts of the shiny metal, the unexpectedly charming miners are busy turning this Eden into hillocks of bare earth and mercury-polluted bogs.

And on the subject of prelapsarian gardens, on the morning of the felling of a hardwood tree that one of the loggers had earmarked as his retirement nest egg (it turned out to be rotten and worthless), the man suddenly whipped out a bible and read the opening page of the Old Testament. Charlie confessed himself moved, despite his atheism.

Be that as it may, his director, Gavin Searle, has an eye for religious imagery – and as the conservationist loaded a sawn log on to his back and staggered through the undergrowth, he did indeed resemble Christ on the Via Dolorosa. Charlie had taken up his cross, or his white man’s burden, and at last realised that his ideals might actually cause human misery.

I Bought a Rainforest should be required viewing for anyone with a serious interest in conserving a jungle that provides a third  of our oxygen.

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