If you live in California, you know when it’s fire season. It’s hot. It’s dry.

And before long, the furnace blast of the Santa Ana winds — the “El Diablo” (Devil) Winds — set upon us, blowing down from the mountain passes, bringing even lower humidity.

Everyone knows it. Far more obvious than how midwesterners feel “tornado weather,” Californians know when it’s fire season. Clear the brush. Water the yard. Make sure nothing flammable is outside.

Night photo of an abandoned property along a lonely stretch of Route 66, taken August 1, 2020. The nearly full moon is blotted out by the Apple Fire 90 miles to the south near Cherry Valley, CA. Pentax K-1, 15-30mm f/2.8 lens, 72 seconds, f/8, ISO 200. Illuminated by a handheld ProtoMachines light painting device during the exposure.

Containing fires

Some fires burn for over two months. As of this writing, firefighters predict that the Bobcat Fire, the fire closest to my home that has already been burning for about six days, will be contained five weeks from now.


Not extinguished — contained.

The sun battling to shine through the smoke and haze from the Bobcat Fire. Some of these fires are so large that they create their own violent weather patterns, complete with lightning storms and “firenados,” which are exactly what you think they are.

Not all heroes wear capes

I’m not sure I’m all that biased when I say that California firefighters are the greatest firefighters in the world, although perhaps the Australians might have something to say about that. They walk tall in 120-degree heat, carrying 45-75 pounds of equipment with them. They battle apocalyptic fires for week after week, often with little rest. They are superheroes without capes.

“Your house is on fire!”

My house partially burned several years ago. Potting soil inside the garage self-combusted in the evening of an 80-degree day in May.

We were woken up in the middle of the night from someone pounding on our front door, shouting, “Your house is on fire!” Our rooms were filled with smoke. The smoke alarms had not gone off. None of them. The fire burned the entire garage, including my car and all everything else inside. The smell was acrid and sharp. It’s a smell you can never forget.

Firefighters arrived quickly rushed inside. In seemingly several quick motions, they seemed to push everything in one room to the middle and cover it with sheets of plastic to protect it from smoke and water. We shivered outside. Lights flashed. Neighbors came out. We never found the guy who alerted us to thank him.

Eventually, we slept in our living room for what little remained of the darkness. For some reason, we couldn’t sleep elsewhere despite the horrible air. We knew we shouldn’t do it, but we couldn’t leave. We were traumatized.

Eventually, the house was rebuilt. The entire garage, most of the roof and more.

However, even today, I will open up some old papers that somehow survived the fire, and I can still smell the smoke from it.

The smoke from some wildfires smell very similar. It’s the smell of trees, brush, homes, car tires, metal, roofing material, rubber, paper and chemically treated wood, all aflame. It’s a horrible smell that whisks me back instantly to our house fire.

Smoke from a distant fire

The Apple Fire began July 31, 2020 at 6:08 p.m. north of Cherry Valley. In less than a day, its hungry flames had eaten thousands of acres, announcing its beastly authority by dispatching untold amounts of smoke that would filled the skies in Las Vegas, NV and Phoenix, AZ hundreds of miles away.

On August 1 — just a day later — I photographed a lonely stretch of Route 66 southeast of Barstow. Although 90 miles south, the smoke filled the air.

An abandoned swimming pool at night, illuminated by blue light from a handheld ProtoMachines LED2 light painting device. The sky is choked from the Apple Fire which had started the day before this was photographed. Pentax K-1, 15-30mm f/2.8 lens, 3 minutes, f/8, ISO 200.

Unhealthy air

Smoke has choked the skies of California. The light streaming in from the window is an eerie yellow. The sun is blotted out, looking more like a moon. The only good thing about the smoke is that it is not blistering hot.

Early morning, the light around the lake looked like photos you view on your mobile phone with the blue light filter enabled. Much of the light bathed everything in an odd yellow-orange haze.

The summer of 2016

I went to a reggae festival in 2016 in Topanga in the Santa Monica Mountains. The sky there too was filled with that same eerie yellowish haze, the sort you see in movies depicting the not-so-distant future after some sort of man-made apocalypse. These are several scenes from there, taken with an iPhone 6.

While taking these photos, a woman walked up to me and pointed at the faint circular light in the sky, trying desperately to shine through ominous smoke and haze. “That’s the moon, right? That’s not the sun?” I assured her it was. She could not believe her eyes.

More records broken

Every year, we seem to break records. Hotter months. More fires. Larger burn areas. I find myself thinking how much more can burn. But hungry fires can always find something to burn.

No photos of fires here

You’ll notice that there’s no photos of the fires themselves above. These are apocalyptic fires. Sure, I could sneak my way there. But no. I stay away from apocalyptic fires.

I would only get in the firefighters’ way. And I never want to get in the way of a superhero. They have work to do.

Maximum respect to all firefighters. A big giant hug to everyone affected by these fires.