Weekend Diversion: The Horror And Beauty of California’s Wildfires (Synopsis)

“the way to create art is to burn and destroy
ordinary concepts and to substitute them
with new truths that run down from the top of the head
and out of the heart” -
Charles Bukowski

When it comes to destructive forces that are also mesmerizing and impossible to look away from, it's hard to compete with fire. Have a listen to Josh Ritter sing about one of the most common, destructive types,


but consider that there's often a beauty to the destruction that's rarely captures.

Image credit: Stuart Palley, from his instagram feed at https://instagram.com/stuartpalley/. Image credit: Stuart Palley, from his instagram feed at https://instagram.com/stuartpalley/.

Photographer Stuart Palley, through the use of long-exposure techniques, has somehow managed to capture both the combined terror and the eerie beauty that the phenomenon of wildfires brings. In addition, he hopes to use his art to raise awareness of how wildfires occur, how they're linked to drought, and what we can all do to help prevent and mitigate the catastrophe that ensues.

Image credit: Stuart Palley, from his instagram feed at https://instagram.com/stuartpalley/. Image credit: Stuart Palley, from his instagram feed at https://instagram.com/stuartpalley/.

Go check out the whole captivating story for our weekend diversion!

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From a firies point of view, I can say there is no beauty in a fire situation. There is no time to enjoy such things - rather, observe the extent, calculate the risks, endeavor to extinguish; ensure the safety of your men & others, stock, then property.
I entirely agree with the photographer that education is an absolute necessity for those living in the bush. Goodness knows how many campaigns we would run each year in the off-season to try & make property owners aware of their surrounds.
Invariably, complacency creeps in after a few years without fire. During those years, the fuel has built up to incredible levels again, ready for another outburst.
It is not necessarily nature that starts many of these fires. More than 70% of bushfires are lit by humans. The farmer welding, or grinding his equipment middle of summer, who does not consider his exposures. Camp fires left to burn out on their own. Wanton destruction, quite often by frustrated volunteers, who 'need some action', and the like.
One of the grossest shockers is knocking down a house fire in a bushfire. There is a smell of roast pork in the air, except you know this property owner did not keep pigs.
Many of these things are found after the main fire has gone through, during mopup & investigation.
Become a volunteer, then tell me you still see beauty.

I once saw a really cool photo of an Alaskan fire, titled between heaven and hell. A beautiful aurora above and a forest fire below.

What shocks me, is that even with this seemingly bright fire, far more of the MilkyWay is visible than would be possible from my suburban location.

By Omega Centauri (not verified) on 23 Aug 2015 #permalink

Photographic license - both were not taken at the same time. In the second photo (above), you can work out the exposure time (whilst the aircraft is in frame) by counting the strobe flashes (approx. 1 per second).

it's really hard to estimate exposure (and number of them) without looking into the exif info... at least one photo is done with multiple exposures, and at least three are HDR stacks. The photo of a photographer himself standing on a hiltop observing the fires below with milkyway and stars.. this photo is pretty wide field and yet is showing trailing on the stars if zoomed... I would estimate this at around 20s of exposure.. if fires in the distance aren't too bright.. 20s needn't overexpose the photo. On the other hand the photo with an airplane trail over the sky is again done with 5-10s exposures but with stacks.. it would take an airplane around 2-3 minutes to cross the whole sky like that.

But the one showing trees and sparks forming glowing hairs.. (awesome shot btw).. can be done with single exposure. and there are others which are single exposure.

Without knowing how bright the fires that he shot were.. no way of being certain.. if they were blazing infernos.. then multiple exposures are a must.. but maybe what he shot were regions were firefighters had things under control already and it's the long exposure that make fires on some photos larger.

But, of course, every photo any good photographer will do will have some some touch-ups later on.. it's a must :)

These are great photos, with awesome composition and exposure control. And it had to require balls to get there close and personal and still keep a cool head and shoot. But I also feel for what PJ wrote.. it's the circle we are in in this thing called life.. after all.. when we here look at a nebula created by some star's explosion.. we all say how beautiful it is. Yet if someone/something was alive on a planet nearby they were wiped out of existance..

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 23 Aug 2015 #permalink

I imagine that's what Turner thought when the Houses of Parliament burned down!

I bet he thought "That's burning down".

I can agree the photos are interesting in a weird sort of way, but, to get the message out there requires a more realistic, gut wrenching front. Cosider the photos above, then think about a scene with a dead, bloated, singed cow in the middle of a stark, scorched patch of earth. Which one would make you think more seriously about proper preparation of that property. Think about your neighbors, also. You do them a favor by keeping yourself tidy.
On the other hand, if you do not live out in the back blocks, you would probably never really think about the situation.
Asw for the star burst (SL #4), a different type of scenario completely.
Forest fires are controllable for the required outcome; risk can be lowered by forward planning.

@PJ #7

The photos do nothing for me. I live in an area that gets evacuated every few years. Camping trips to my warehouse or wife's office are not fun, and those thoughts are what these photos conjure. However, I will give begrudging awe to fire tornadoes. I know you get then in parts of Australia as well. When seen in person, they're memorizing.

An interesting choice of word 'memorizing'. One certainly does not forget the apparition too soon; or the threat, especially for the first time. They can be mesmerizing for those without prior experience of such events.
One of the most feared events takes place in pine forests. With enough ground fuel, the amount of heat generated can be enough to cause the tree sap to gas out. The trees can explode with the force of several sticks of dynamite.
Just something else to think about for property owners near, or in forested areas.

Thought I'd dig this one back up.

My In-laws have a ranch near San Andreas, California that backs up to BLM (unoccupied federally owned) land. They have been evacuated and CalFIRE along with fire crews who have driven in from all parts of the state are making a heroic effort to save structures in an area very much like the above photos.

It isn't known if the house is gone, and that is a common theme. People crowd together in Town Halls and School Gymnasiums consoling each other, try a little bit too hard to keep things positive, and share any information they can get. Little web servers that host local papers like The Pine Tree are getting hammered.

While the pictures are dramatic as viewed on your monitor in what is likely a very safe place, don't overlook what the camera was pointed at when the picture was taken.

Denier, do you have to buy special wild fire insurance out there?

By Ragtag Media (not verified) on 12 Sep 2015 #permalink