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Photographing the Station Fire

By on Sep 4, 2009 in Blog, Print, Video | 2 comments

Burned Hills in the Station Fire

Burned Hills in the Station Fire

During the past week, the northern end of Los Angeles County has been burning. The Station Fire, which to-date is the biggest wildfire in the history of LA County, has swept from the hillside communities above Pasadena and Duarte into the Angeles National Forest. Unburned for more than 60 years, the thick, deep brush provided ample fuel for a monster fire.

In addition to spending time at base camp working on several assignments, Cameron Barrett shot quite a bit of HD video, and the images will be remarkable. I took a few photographs of aftermath, and even those (you can see a few here) images are striking.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this was not the drama of billowing smoke and fire, but the stark emptiness of the “morning after,” so to speak. Hillsides and canyons looked like they had been sculpted by a model railroader, then painted black and some flour dusted here and there to represent ash. And the same image goes on and on – we drove up several canyon roads for mile after mile and the only thing we saw besides burned out hills were smoldering tree stumps, and wisps of smoke drifting up from the rubble that wildfire can create.

Cameron Barrett capturing destroyed home footage

Cameron Barrett capturing destroyed home footage

And, several miles up Big Tujunga Canyon, we came across several burned out cottages. As the sun set, the only things left standing were chimneys and black tree trunks. Destroyed cars remained parked in driveways, never to wheel along a highway again. At one home, we found nearly a dozen dead cats – and an angry group of people (ourselves and several network photographers) who couldn’t believe these animals were just left behind. Still, Cameron, who is an animal advocate, captured the scene, all in High-Def.

Another interesting aspect of the aftermath is the sound. It’s really quiet. There are no leaves to rustle in the breeze. No squirrels to scamper through the underbrush. Just dead sound. At least until you hear the rumble of a fire engine, or the thump, thump, thump of a helicopter overhead.

Spot fires continue to threaten the containment lines.

Spot fires continue to threaten the containment lines.

And the fires continue to burn as I type this. Although nearly 50% contained, there is ongoing risk and danger. And thankfully, most residents took the advice of law enforcement and fire officials and evacuated when asked. Two LA County firefighters lost their lives in the midst of this arson-generated wildfire. Perhaps the only good news relates to weather: This fire took place in August, with little or no wind. If the same thing had occurred in November, when the Santa Ana winds sweep through the canyons, it’s really unimaginable to think what might have happened.

As this is part of our job, we’ve become familiar with these types of situations in general. Yet this particular incident will remain etched in our memories for quite awhile. We can only hope it will be at least another 60 years before anything like this happens again – and never would be a much better option.