“Station Fire” ~ Station Fire, Angeles National Forest
Taken from the 9th floor of the Caltech Library
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 500mm +1.4x tc, tripod
Exposure: iso 1600, f/5.6, 8 sec
Processing: 3 exposure panorama stitched with PTGui

Last year in late August and early September the largest wildfire in the history of the Angeles National Forest raged on for six weeks (Aug 26 – Oct 16), burning 250 square miles of land, killing two firefighters and injuring 22 others. It ranks as the 10th largest fire in the history of California since 1933. Of course, the fact that it was burning right at the edge of the second largest city in America makes it stand out that much more. I’m sure everyone that was in the greater Los Angeles area at the time will never forget that fire. For about two weeks while the fire burned within a few miles of my home in Pasadena the air was so full of ash it was uncomfortable to breath – I had to take a few trips to the coast to taste some fresher air!

“Choking on Ash” ~ San Gabriels, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-353mm, tripod, SinghRay Vari ND filter, a handful of ash
Exposure: iso 100, f/16, 5 sec
Notes: I used the Vari ND filter to achieve a 5 sec exposure, during which I through a handful of ash into the scene to get across the choking and sickly feeling.

“There Be Witches” ~ San Gabriels, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 24-150mm, tripod
Exposure: iso 200, f/16, 30 sec

All the way from Long Beach you could see the Pyrocumulus clouds billowing for four miles up into the sky. Of course, I didn’t think to take a photo of it at the time, so you’ll have to use your imagination. You may have seen some of the photos here in earlier postings, but I wanted to share the full story now that we’re finally starting to see the recovery of the area.

“Aerial Burn Study” ~ Station Fire in the San Gabriels
The Tech: Canon 50D, 24-105mm f/4, handheld
Exposure: iso 800, f/8, 1/200th

“Aerial Burn Study II” ~ Station Fire in the San Gabriels
The Tech: Canon 50D, 24-105mm f/4, handheld
Exposure: iso 800, f/8, 1/125th

A little while back I posted a series of images of flowers taken from the air – well, we had to fly over the San Gabriels to get there, so I took some photos to show the extent of the burn from that unique perspective as well. It was remarkable to see the clear delineation of the burn zone along some of the ridges, and downright depressing to see how barren those 160,000 acres of former forest look like now. The keen reader will notice that I took these aerial shots with a 50D. No, I don’t own a 50D. Apparently my 5D2 does not agree with extended periods of cold 100 mph winds that you experience when flying a Cessna with the window open, and I got some weird errors (which have never since returned). My pilot, David Werntz, graciously let me use his camera body for these shots, thanks!

“The Burn Line” ~ Station Fire in the San Gabriels
The Tech: Canon 50D, 24-105mm f/4, handheld
Exposure: iso 800, f/8, 1/250th

The southern California landscape evolved to burn regularly by small wildfires. While some fires start up throughout the summer, it’s not until September, and even October, that the fire danger really peaks. Around that time of year the summer heat has had a chance to dry out any moisture we were gifted earlier in the year, and the westward blowing Santa Ana winds start up.

“Beauty that Was” ~ San Gabriels, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-353mm, tripod, 2-stop hard GND
Exposure: iso 200, f/14, 0.5 sec

These strong, dry, and hot winds blow out of the desert as a cool high-pressure system builds up over the high deserts of the Great Basin (ie. Nevada) in the late fall and winter. This cool air descends along the gravitational gradient of the landscape, descending 1-2 miles as it finds its way to the Southern California coast. As the air is forced down it compresses and warms up at a rate of about 30F per mile, the relative humidity drops, and the airspeed picks up as it is channeled through the passes and canyons. In short, they are incredibly efficient at drying out the chaparral landscape as well as fanning the infamous wildfires that invariably start up. Fortunately the fire last year was a bit early in the season for the Santa Ana’s or it could have been an even bigger disaster!

“Rebirth” ~ San Gabriels, CA
The Tech: Canon 5D2, 16-35mm mkII, handheld
Exposure: iso 200, f/18, 1/40th
Notes: I was in the process of grabbing my tripod and a cloud covered the sun… that one brief window ended up being the only moment of good light that afternoon!
Processing: some small clouds cloned out.

Suppressing these natural fires over the last several decades has caused a large build up of dry fuel, so when an arsonist decided to set the forest ablaze last August, it quickly went up in flames – large, and hot flames. In much of the burned area the fire left nothing behind but blackened skeletons of trees, reducing everything else to several inches of ash. Like volcanic ash, this ash is incredibly fertile, and without all the leafy trees blocking the way of the sun it was party time for all the fast growing plants that could take root. The wet and cool spring we’ve had this year helped these plants jump into life even more. It was such a wonderful transformation to see all the flowers and hear the birds chirping in a place that just nine months ago was a moonscape completely devoid of any sign of life whatsoever. Before too long it’ll be hard to tell that a fire had at one time devastated such a vast expanse of land… the resilience of nature is a miraculous thing!

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4 Comments to “The Rebirth”

  1. Sarah Tulin says:

    Nice story, so much more powerful in pictures, truly incredible! I could still see the “burn line” a few weeks ago from high up on the Mt. Wilson toll road, but the recovery is still amazing! I am loving the spring flowers this year!

  2. pj finn says:

    Powerful shots. It’s amazing how fast the earth comes back to life after a major fire.

  3. Had the same in Greece as well in a mountain just a few Km’s from the city and one of the last “oxygen” spots in Attiki.
    Unfortunately people believe that expanding a city should also include the destruction of any natural resorts so they put that mountain on fire not once, not twice but 5 times in a row, everytime there was plant growth people would just make sure that the mountain would stop its evolution (Penteli mountain, one of the most ancient mountains, the Acropolis marble was mined from its sides and ancient Greeks used to hunt wild boars and even bears! in its pine forests).
    My heart was just broken from it, since it was a place where one leaving in the city of Athens could easily visit and escape from everyday work and city pressure / stress.
    I made 2 similar shots in the winter (didn’t ever bother publishing them, although they had quite a drama within them) the trees burned to the ground, colorless small forests petrified by the devastation yet a few flowers and lots of green patches around surely a contradiction…
    Thanks for sharing the pictures, tragic yet encouraging.

  4. Daniel Ewert says:

    Beautiful series of images, Floris. Wonderful.