The Jesusita Fire took almost everyone by surprise when it began on the afternoon of May 5. It’s the third major wildfire in Santa Barbara in just nine months, and many here are still recovering from the devastating Tea Fire last November.
The blaze is still out of control and details are sketchy, but we know that dozens of homes have already been lost. I witnessed some of them go up in flames myself before being forced out by the authorities.
Here are some of my photos:
This image was taken from Painted Cave Road at 3:30 p.m. on May 5, just a couple of hours after the fire began. The trail of the smoke shows the typical sundowner pattern — blowing across the city and out to sea, just as the devastating Gap and Tea fires did last year.
The Jesusita Fire burns in the hills above Santa Barbara, California. Taken from Camino Cielo in the late afternoon on May 5, 2009. The small black dot in the center is a fixed wing aircraft surveying the hotspots.
Smoke and ash darken the sky above Santa Barbara as night falls on day one of the fire.
On the evening of the first day, the fire was still confined to a relatively small area of less than 200 acres, as seen in this long exposure taken from Elings Park.
Thick smoke drifts out over the city on the second day of the fire, as seen in this shot from Las Tunas Road on the Riviera.
The flames rage in the hills perilously close to Santa Barbara’s historic mission. It seems fitting that local firefighters and police would use the spot as an ad hoc staging ground.
Santa Barbara County firefighters gather at the mission to plan their next assault as the fire continues its spread east and south toward the city.
Fanned by strong winds, flames and smoke wreak havoc in the densely populated neighborhood above Foothill Road, just west of Mission Canyon Road.
Huge flames ravage the foothills above Mountain Drive.
Putrid smoke and ash choked the skies and obscured the sun, bathing the city in an eerie red light.
A chopper dumps water over a structure burning on Mountain Drive.
Intense sundowner winds scatter and fan the flames, as seen in this photo taken from Stanwood Drive.
The size and sheer force of the inferno was staggering.
A terrifying firestorm erupts in the hills above Mission Canyon.
A palm tree scorched in the recent Tea Fire stands on a now vacant lot on Conejo Road, as smoke and ash from the new Jesusita Fire darken the skies above.
The eastern edge of the Jesusita Fire was still burning out of control late on Wednesday night. This photo was taken on Ortega Ridge Road in Summerland.
Strong offshore winds continued to fan the flames of the Jesusita Fire above Santa Barbara, as seen in this image taken at Elings Park.
Intense smoke and ash covered the city of Santa Barbara as the Jesusita Fire continued to burn on several fronts on Wednesday night.
Relatively calm winds during the morning and afternoon of day three kept the Jesusita Fire confined mainly to the mountains near Cathedral Peak.
As the afternoon wore on, the winds intensified and fanned the flames westward.
A dark plume of drift smoke could be seen all the way to Ventura and beyond. This photo was taken from Carpinteria at 6:30 p.m. just as the sundowner winds kicked up and stoked the fires anew.
Strong early evening winds fanned the flames and sent black smoke into the skies above Santa Barbara. This image was shot from Ortega Hill at sunset.
As the sun set on the third day of the Jesusita Fire, the sky turned ominously red and ash started falling like snowflakes. The palmettos on Channel Drive can be seen bending in the strong wind.
By 9:00 o’clock on Thursday, the fire was raging out of control across a wide swath of the Santa Barbara foothills, from San Roque Canyon to the east all the way to Highway 154 to the west.
The Jesusita Fire continued to burn in Santa Barbara on Friday, though lower temperatures and relatively calm winds kept the flames confined mainly to the hills above the city. After sunset, the skies were still dark with drift smoke and ash, as seen in this image taken from Butterfly Beach.
By Friday evening, the Jesusita Fire had consumed 8,400 acres and cut a swath some five miles wide from the ridges above Montecito all the way to Painted Cave.
The Jesusita Fire continued to rage in the hills above Montecito on Friday evening.
Flames from the Jesusita Fire lit up the evening sky above Santa Barbara on Friday evening, as seen in this image taken at the Andree Clark Bird Refuge.
Another personal favorite, this one of the Channel Islands off the coast of southern California. The three small islands in the foreground make up Anacapa, the large island behind it is Santa Cruz, and in the distance are Santa Rosa and San Miguel islands. The image was taken through the windshield of a Cessna on a return flight from Catalina Island with my pilot friend Sam. A special day.
A personal favorite, this one shot at the Heat the Street Faire in San Francisco, October 2008.
Some of my photographs are included in a show, opening today, in Santa Rosa, California. The exhibition, “Bringing Back the Fire,” is a celebration of art and community at the annual Burning Man festival. According to the show’s press release, Burning Man “turns part of Black Rock Desert in Nevada into the ‘world’s largest outdoor art gallery’ for one week each August. Much of the art shown on the site is intended to burn — but many pieces survive, to be seen again. This exhibit celebrates some of these, and the community of participants who have created them.” The show runs through March 22, 2008 at the Santa Rosa Junior College Art Gallery.
Al Gore and the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shared the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007. They were in Oslo last month to accept the award and take part in three full days of festivities. The Nobel events coincided with the climate conference in Bali, which made the coverage particularly interesting and timely this year. Rarely has the international spotlight been focused more intently on the question of global warming.
In his Nobel acceptance speech, Al Gore drew a parallel between leaders who ignore the climate crisis and those who failed to act as Nazi Germany rearmed before World War II. “Too many of the world’s leaders are still best described in the words Winston Churchill applied to those who ignored Adolf Hitler’s threat: ‘They go on in strange paradox, decided only to be undecided, resolved to be irresolute, adamant for drift, solid for fluidity, all powerful to be impotent,'” Gore said. He likened the current “planetary emergency” to wartime. “We must quickly mobilize our civilization with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war.” Strong words. A powerful lecture.
It was my fifth year covering the Oslo events. More photos and text here.
My photographs from Burning Man appear in several magazines currently on the newsstand. The new issue of Nevada Magazine includes a ten-page cover story titled “Images of Burning Man” with many of my photos. The latest Public Art Review features an article by Louis Brill titled “Burning Man Photographers.” The piece showcases the work of several photographers and makes the point that while public art is often the subject of Burning Man photos, some images from the event deserve to be called art in their own right. In addition, the French magazine Néosapiens includes a full-page photo of mine from the 2004 festival. Finally, the glossy German travel magazine ADAC Reisemagazin featured a pictorial on Burning Man a few months ago in a special issue on the American west. Sierra Magazine will also publish a photo of mine from last year’s festival in their upcoming issue.
The 2006 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. The award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, brought together heads of state, prominent humanitarians, Hollywood celebrities, rock stars, and journalists from around the world. An all-round extraordinary event. My photoessay captures some of the highlights, from the award ceremony and the torchlight procession through Oslo’s city streets to the globally-televised Nobel Peace Prize Concert hosted by Sharon Stone and Anjelica Houston and featuring artists like John Legend an Lionel Richie.
The 2006 Burning Man festival kicked off last night in Nevada’s Black Rock desert. In a story today, ABC News described the event variously as “the Woodstock of Generation X,” a “weeklong party for iPod nerds and punk-rock pixies,” and “a massive drug-fueled orgy of the senses.” (Click here for story.)
For the record, Burning Man is not a rock concert, a gathering of techies or punk-rockers, or even a drug fest. That said, Bede Moore, the writer of the ABC story, got much of it right. I’m quoted at one point in the article saying that Larry Harvey and the other founders based the event on a very enlightened set of values. Even though the festival has grown exponentially over the past 20 years, they have stayed true to those values. For many of us, it’s the thing that keeps us coming back year after year.