California Wildfires: Calm After the Burn

As a nature photographer passionate about conservation, it’s important to document the ugly with the beautiful, because without that balance, we risk becoming accustomed to a world shaped by destruction and not one of harmony. Nature will regenerate and fire is an important part of that process, but we must consider what role we play in that process, too.

Entering wildfire areas is dangerous. Use caution and check with local authorities for rules and regulations. Never interfere with an active fire effort.

October 05, 2020

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

Photo By: Ian Shive

The human story is an aspect I often include in my photographs, but I have rarely had the chance to document the brave heroes who save lives and livelihoods. This Cal Fire firefighter is focusing on hotspot areas in the Bobcat Fire.

The bright red of the Cal Fire trucks is the only bright spot in a scene of destruction. This is an area along the Bobcat Fire, which is burning in the Angeles National Forest north of Los Angeles. Even though it is a grim scene, the symmetry of the firefighters and their trucks in the landscape caught my eye.

In the forest, there were few signs of life, but these bones, possibly from a raccoon or possum, were found near a tree. There were no other remains, so I speculate that this animal had died before the fire and was dragged here by some other scavenger.

With the fire destroying the undergrowth and brush, the amount of trash alongside the roads now becomes visible. Anything you can think of was found, from aerosol cans and beer cans to mattress springs and even old pans from the mining days--our mark always seems to stay visible.

Not every photo is meant for a gallery wall, but they all tell a story. The trash piled up everywhere was devastating.

Wide angle images of a fire's aftermath are difficult to make interesting, with few subjects to focus on. This particular tree was spread wide and positioned in a way that allowed me to make a wide composition.

Detail of a burned tree with haze and smoke in the distance.

Alternate composition of a burned out yucca, my "favorite" subject in an otherwise bland subject matter.

Despite the heat and a destroyed forest, there is still green among a running creek. The fire is one catastrophe, but the coming rainy season will create another, as mudslides change the landscape, possibly altering these critical habitats.

An alternate composition of the skeletal trees. The white sky, made so by the lingering smoke and haze from other fires far away, made it difficult to find any real color in most of the photos.

It felt like walking on a sand dune, with at least four inches of soft ash carpeting the entire floor. Scientists are able to determine how hot a fire is by the depth of the ash and depth of the burns on roots.

In the aftermath of a fire, the most unusual aspect is the silence. It is so quiet, devoid of birds or the scurry of a squirrel. I wasn't in here long, but I felt uneasy the entire time.

These trees and hillside reminded me of the photos I have seen of Namibia, with red dunes and a few sparse, black trees. The composition struck me and I tried a number of different angles and frames, but this was my favorite.

An alternate composition, this time without any horizon line in the distance, showing only the monochromatic landscape of the fire's aftermath.

I could only imagine what this must have looked like when it was still on fire, flames roaring overhillsides taking with them every living thing in its path. The photo tells one story, but for me on the ground, the smell is what I remember. It wasn't the beautiful smell you get from a campfire, but an unpleasant, damp mustiness.

The yucca are desert plants and used to heat, but nothing can escape the flames of a raging fire like the one that tore through here, taking more than 30,000 acres with it.

These particular yucca, which had been burned in a searning hot fire, caught my eye as one of the most unusual subjects. Their green leaves singed off by the flames, all that is left reminded me of a pineapple. Their weird, spindly shapes made for an interesting composition.

Despite the destruction, there is hope! Fire is a natural part of nature's cycle, and regeneration begins almost immediately. The bright green is almost electric against the otherwise monochromatic background.

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California Wildfires: The Aftermath

After the devastating Lake Fire in California, nature photographer and conservationist Ian Shive ventured out to document the devastation firsthand.