I’m more sensitive to big fires than I ought to be, but my excuse is that I have noticed that almost everywhere I have ever lived has had a major fire. My birthplace Spokane, Washington, was burned before I was born, but people still talked about it when I was a kid. Berkeley, my chosen place of living for fifty years, burnt in 1923 and some of my close friends remembered it, and one of them lost his home. I was living in the Oakland hills in 1989 when three thousand homes burned, and the fire came close enough that I had packed my valuable stuff in my car. Some of my friends lost their homes. I lived for a couple of years in San Francisco and the area of my residence had burned in the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fire. Part of my reason for choosing Bend, Oregon, for a retirement home was that it was safe from earthquakes and at moderate risk for a city fire.
My relationship to the Thomas fire presently raging in the hills above Santa Barbara, California, is now remote, and comic. My father lived there in the 1950s and was a member of the Santa Barbara camera club. That was the premier camera club in the country at that time with many famous photographers from Arizona Highways magazine and others as members. My father won the club’s 35mm Slide of the Year for 1953 with a photo I took. It was of a lightning bolt near Antelope, Oregon, where I was working that summer on the Priday ranch. My father had entered it in the club’s monthly meeting, with our name on it, where the picture won first place, and in the twelve slides-of-the-month contest in late December it won first place. My father didn’t have the quickness of wit to admit that a slide with Scamahorn written on it wasn’t taken by him, but by me, and he had a huge trophy with his name on it for several months, until he had a slip of the tongue and mentioned that he didn’t take the picture. It was taken back, and he was kicked out of the club. I wonder if that trophy still exists, with our family name crossed out.
I said that my relationship to Santa Barbara was thin, but it’s a good story and the Thomas fire is now raging close by where my dad lived.
Here is a great Forest Service map of the whole US showing wildland fire potential.