Hite is currently an Associate Professor of Film & Video at Allan Hancock College, in Santa Maria CA. He started as a cinematographer and editor in 1996 and has since worked on hundreds of industrials, documentaries and commercials. He has directed eight films that have appeared at more than twenty-five national and international film festivals including Scottsdale International Film Fest, Cambofest in Phnom Pehn Cambodia, CineKid in the Netherlands, and the BBC Big Screen in Manchester, England. His last documentary, Ghosts in the Mountains, won the Gold Medal in the International Competition at the Wasaga Beach Film Festival Canada, the Best Appalachian Short at the Queen City Film Fest, Maryland, and Best Camera at the Star Doc Film Fest in Los Angeles. Chris was an animator for six seasons of Smart Start Kids, a children’s educational program produced by WRAL in Raleigh, NC. The show won an Emmy Award in 2005. Chris has written for Super-8 Today Magazine and presented papers at the Society of Cinema and Media Studies conference in Atlanta. His short screenplays have won awards at the LA Sports Film Festival and the Action on Film Festival. He holds a BA in Film/Video Production from Pennsylvania State University and an MFA in Screenwriting and Film Studies from Hollins University, Roanoke,VA.
What drew me to the story of Firestorm ’77 was the raw, unfiltered experience of the participants. It wasn’t the glamorized, heroic depiction of fire fighters as born out in grand Hollywood epics. Many who fought this fire had no training whatsoever and were placed in situations of grave danger without no tools and no discussion.
Firestorm ’77 is a cautionary reminder of what can go wrong when ego, power, and fear commingle at the wrong time at the highest levels of decision making. As fire season has become longer, deadlier, and larger in much of the United States, the need for coherent planning, proper resources, and the patience and willingness to listen to those who face the fire is paramount.
It is my hope that Firestorm ’77 will serve as a reminder that as we face an uncertain future in regards to climate fueled fire challenges, that much can be gleaned from the past by those who stood before the ultimate trial.
Joseph N. Valencia. Reserve Fireman, Santa Barbara County Fire Department
At 19 years old, Valencia is part of the Santa Barbara County Strike Team that arrived on scene at the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire. Valencia was involved in two fire overruns and on two rescues. That night, he fought the fire on Tranquillion Ridge and at Space Launch Complex Six.
Partner-producer-technical consultant to Augmentee Films and Firestorm '77: The Honda Canyon Fire, and author, Beyond Tranquillon Ridge--December 20-21, 1977--The Climatic Ending to a California Fire Season, upon which the documentary is adapted.
Dennis R. Ford. Airman First Class/Augmentee Vandenberg AFB
At 20 years old, with a pair of leather gloves, a single flat-head shovel and no training, Ford was ordered to fight the fire as an Augmentee, positioned for the next 12-15 hours at Honda Canyon, just below Honda Canyon Ridge.
Partner, Augmentee Films, Executive Producer-Associate Editor-Screenwriter, FireStorm ‘77: The Honda Canyon Fire.
Ron Fink. Master Sergeant, Vandenberg Fire Department
One of the first individuals to respond to the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire. As lookout, his warnings of the impending conflagration were likely lost to the pitch of high winds and radio static. As highest-ranking on-scene Vandenberg Fire Department official following the tragic deaths in the fire of the two fire chiefs, Fink experienced a number of conflicts with senior military officers.
William (Bill) Bielitzer. Captain, Santa Barbara County Fire Department
Put himself in direct peril with fire swirling all around, to rescue Santa Barbara County Fire Department Battalion Chief Donald Perry and several others. Valencia, in his book, Beyond Tranquillon Ridge-- December 20-21,1977--The Climatic End- ing to a California Fire Season, called the effort, "...the most courageous act I saw at the [1977 Honda canyon] fire...it was a true act of courage."
Stan Long, Airman Basic, Augmentee, Vandenberg AFB
In the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire fight, Long was a Dispatch Center phone-operator during the day, and Augmentee directly fighting the fire at night. Long vividly described the moments when Dispatch Center staff learned the identities of the four fatalities--people whom they all knew and respected.
Paul Hill. Airman First Class, Vandenberg Fire Department
Due to chaos and failure to adapt to extreme wildfire and wind conditions on the ground at the front line of the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire, Augmentee Hill was eventually reassigned to Santa Barbara City Fire Department to help protect Space Launch Complex (SLC) Three.
Donald Perry, Battalion Chief, Santa Barbara County Fire Department
At the front of the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire along with the Vandenberg AFB Base Commander and two other USAF Fire Department Fire Chiefs. All attempt to out-run the fire in their respective vehicles. Perry, along with three other individuals in his sedan, ultimately survived hundreds of feet of horizontal fire plummeting the sedan. tragically, the Base commander and two fire chiefs did not survive
Joe Lindaman. Hot Shots Supervisor, Santa Barbara County Fire Department
Entrapped and overrun in Chief Perry's vehicle by the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire, and considered the likely consequences should one of the other occupants open their sedan door at that moment. This important lesson learned: in a wildland firefight, one's own survival may very well rest, and often, on the actions of others.
Ed McGready. Battalion Chief, Santa Barbara County Fire Department
McGready witnessed the Air Force General and top Fire Chiefs, from Vandenberg and Santa Barbara County, heatedly discussing the command and control strategies for the fire. A second incident occurred later in the night. Air Force officials with weapons drawn strongly implied that McCready and his Fire Division should leave the scene of the fire.
John Feazelle, Operator, SantaBarbara County Fire Department
Escaped the conflagration of the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire by stationing his bulldozer (equipped without an over-head cab) in an area covered by ice plant. Feazelle also describes in vivid detail the futility of their trying to create firebreaks to stop the raging wildfire much later in the day.
Brandon Paige. Captain, Santa Barbara City Fire Department
Fights fires now--more than a generation post-1977 Honda Canyon Fire. Assisted the researching of Valencia's book, Beyond Tranquillon Ridge--December 20-21, 1977--The Climatic Ending to a California Fire Season. Interest in the 1977 fire today is the further development of lessons learned, improving wildfire fighting strategies, techniques, weapons, and equipment, and the advancement of fire training and personnel--for a safer fire community and response today and tomorrow.
Mark Smith. Assistant Fire Chief, Vandenberg Fire Department
Came to fire service after the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire, Progressed through the ranks at Vandenberg Fire from Hot Shot to his current position. Smith was Incident Commander on the 2016 Canyon Fire that had similar treacherous conditions including very high winds. Knowing the experience of, and important lessons learned in the Honda Canyon Fire, Smith was able to make decisions that effectively addresssed the Canyon Fire, saved lives and property.
Melanie (Koolkanian) Bedwell. Reporter, KSBY - TV, NBC Affiliate, San Luis Obispo
On December 20, 1977, positioned in front of a charred vehicle, Bedwell was a front line, first-hand witness to the flames and smoke of the 1977 Honda Canyon Fire, along with the pungent odor of freshly burnt ash, metal and rubber. Hand-carried her story and raw video footage back to her station, where it was reported to view- ers that same evening.
Christopher Hite: Director Of Photography & Film Editor
Dennis R. Ford: Executive Producer & Film Editor
Joseph N. Valencia: Producer & Technical Expert
Curtis Yap: Camera Operator
Glenn Fuss: Publicist and Photographer
A 2018 photograph of some of the 1977 interviewees with current Vandenberg Air Force Hot Shots at a memorial for Dozer Operator: Clarence McCauley