When I started working on this series I had pretty much bought into the mistaken notion that fairly frequent wildfires were very much a part of the natural process in Southern California. It appeared that humans residing near the edges of wild areas were living with the threat that sometimes nature would push back human advances into the landscape and take these edge settlements during the fires. I had some mistaken poetic notion that at these edges we could witness the occasional balancing out of an equation usually weighted to the advantage of the dominant human species.
The reality of the story, though, is much more brutish and leaves me flailing about trying to find the poetry in it. Fires of natural origin are rare in Southern California, with CalFire estimating that 94% of the fires they responds to are of human origin. In fact, the October, 2003 Cedar Fire, the event that the photographs in this series document, had its origin in a hunter lost in the landscape. In the end, most of these fires are things we're doing to ourselves—and to the environment. It's usually not a case of nature fighting back.
Humans can rebuild and wildlands in California can recover from occasional burning. But the frequency of human-source fires can strain the abilities of landscapes to recover. Fire-adapted and also incredibly flammable invasive plants can move in. Robust native chaparral can convert over to landscapes of imported weeds that burn at the drop of a match and regenerate the flammable landscape over and over.
When we get to that point, fire begets fire.
Images 15 x 18¾ inches on paper 17 x 22 inches. Editions of 20.
- Burned Car on I-8, Day 3
- Pine Creek Canyon with Fire Haze, Day 3
- "Tim Loves Julia" Rock, Day 3
- Lake Wohlford Road, Day 5
- Burned Eucalyptus with New Grasses, Tierrasanta Neighborhood, San Diego, 3 Months Later
- Recovering Slopes, Mission Trails Regional Park I, 3 Months Later
- Burnded Slope with Rain-Washed Stones, Mission Trails Regional Park VI, 3 Months Later
- Hill with Wildflowers, Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, 6 Months Later