At the edge of disaster

“Oh, a storm cloud. Good - we could use some rain”, I thought to myself staring out at the dark, billowing clouds that filled the southern portion of the sky that was visible from my window. It was still early in the morning, and I had not yet checked the news.

Upper Bidwell Park. The small orange dot is the mid-day sun.

The town of Paradise was already engulfed in flames from a wildfire that started early that morning, and the smoke flowed above Chico like a river, cutting through an otherwise clear, sunny sky. Later that afternoon, I took a break from terrible news on TV and grabbed my camera and headed out to Upper Bidwell Park to get a view just outside of Chico.

The light of the clear, sunny northern horizon cast a blue highlight on the trees - contrasting with the warm shadows of the smoke in a discordant, unsettling manner. I spent about 45 minutes taking photos, then headed back home.

I spent the rest of the day glued to the local news on TV, as well as the Facebook app on my phone. Many of my friends, acquaintances, and former clients lived in Paradise and the surrounding area, or had family who did. Many of them can be seen in the photo galleries of this site. Most of them confirmed the loss of their homes in the days that followed.

A week later, the wildfire is still making its way south, and the air is a thick, dirty, brown haze - keeping everyone indoors as much as possible. My feelings about these photos are complicated, as I can’t quite square the strikingly beautiful colors with the devastating consequences felt by so many, but it felt more wrong for them to simply stay hidden from view on my hard drive, so I’m posting them here.

For anyone wanting to donate to the victims, my general recommendation would be to emphasize that cash and gift cards are often more helpful than supplies. My condolences to everyone affected by this fire, and my best wishes to you all going forward.