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Wildfire Relief: The 8 Best Firefighter Movies

Wildfire Relief: The 8 Best Firefighter Movies

This wildfire stuff is getting ridiculous.

The entire state of Texas is experiencing drought, categorized as "extreme" or "exceptional" in 95 percent of the state. Severe lack of rain + high winds and high pressure = the fires currently ravaging Bastrop and Montgomery counties.

Firefighters attempting to get a handle on the fires are struggling, not just with the dry conditions and budget cuts to volunteer departments (879 state FDs are volunteer, compared to 114 paid and 187 that are a combination of the two), but with a lack of decent movies about their profession.

Fine, that's probably the least of their concerns these days. Still, with all the smoke in the air you're probably going to be spending a lot of time indoors, and you'll need some decent firefighting movies to keep you occupied.

Many firefighters will tell you the best firefighting movie "hasn't been made yet." Not just because of inaccuracies in most movies on the subject (they don't wear air packs in Backdraft, pulling the Rapid Intervention Team out in Ladder 49) but because real firefighting -- navigating smoke-filled rooms and hallways, digging fire breaks -- doesn't fit with the audience's expectations of watching a strapping Billy Baldwin emerge from the flames with a basket of kittens.

So in most cases, a list of "good" firefighting movies has to balance realism with Hollywood. Remember that when you get to Number 4. I'm also not including any TV series, mostly because the only one I've seen is Emergency and I still have nightmares about being stalked by something called a "Randolph Mantooth."

8. Hellfighters (1968) "Loosely" based on the life of Houston's famed oil well firefighter Paul "Red" Adair, with the Duke himself in the starring role and Adair's lieutenants Asger "Boots" Hansen and Ed "Coots" Matthews serving as technical advisers. Even with all that, they couldn't make it very un-boring.

7. Firestorm (1998) I'm including this Howie Long bomb because it's one of the few examples of wildfire fighting movies. Believe me, that's the only reason.

6. World Trade Center (2006) This story of Port Authority cops John McLoughlin and William Jimeno was fascinating enough without Oliver Stone coming in and turning it into a Hallmark Network movie. In spite of all the swelling orchestral moments and hero worship, you get a decent idea of what it was like for the first responders that day.

5. Roxanne (1987) An underrated and oft-forgotten Steve Martin vehicle. And one of the last before he started making Cheaper by the Dozen remakes. I always wondered how he got his SCBA on over that nose, though.

 

4. The Towering Inferno (1974) Yes, it's head-splittingly far-fetched and inaccurate...but Steve McQueen! Paul Newman! Bill Holden! Faye Dunaway! O.J. Simps...never mind.

3. Ladder 49 (2004) Much as I dislike the former Vinnie Barbarino, at least some of the cast actually trained at a fire academy, and many actual firefighters were extras. Oh, and Travolta dies. Bonus!

2. Backdraft (1991) Many still hold this Ron Howard flick up as the best in the firefighting category. And the movie that convinced America all firefighters look like Billy Baldwin and Kurt Russell.

1. 9/11 (2002) This remarkable documentary contains one of only three shots of the first plane hitting Tower One on September 11. Initially a film about the experiences of a probationary firefighter, it ended up a true insider's look at the actions of a group of first responders, some of whom were in Tower One when Tower Two was hit. I'm cheating, because this aired on CBS and not on the big screen, but it's worth it. Here's the whole film.


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