Sonoma County Fires in 40 Photos

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So we turn to images to tell a story that needs to be told.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So I turn to images to tell a story that needs to be told. The story of the Sonoma County fires is not just one of devastation, it is also one of compassion, camaraderie, resourcefulness and resilience; of a community that came together in the face of adversity. And that is a story worth remembering.

In the past, I have worked with and written about people affected by human tragedy around the world. In the days following the fearsome morning of October 9, as wildfires raged across Sonoma County, I tried to fall back on that experience.

But this time, the catastrophe was not happening in a distant country. This time, it was happening at home. I could see the fires on the horizon, I could smell the smoke. I could hear sirens at night, and helicopters hovering overhead. I could feel the dread. This was my country, my city; whole neighborhoods damaged and destroyed; friends displaced; neighbors dead; parents and children without a roof over their heads. This was a catastrophe previously unmet.

Words elude me, and in their place, I’m left with images: the sombre faces of the firefighters in Alvin Jornada’s portraits; the dreadful yet hauntingly beautiful flames in Kent Porter’s photos; the remains of cherished objects sensitively captured by Beth Schlanker, the intimate scenes of sheltered people and animals, side by side, in John Burgess’s shots, the contrast between dark and light in Christopher Chung’s photographs — images of evacuees returning to the ruins of what was once their home, thankful citizens displaying signs of gratitude for firefighters who fought so hard to stop the firestorm.

These snapshots in time — the emotions and moments distilled in each photograph, reinforce my sense of the fragility of life. But they also remind me of our shared humanity; of what is precious in life. When the fires are out and the smoke has blown away, this is another part of the story that I will never forget.