Photographs & Text By: Chris Rusanowsky
The state of California faced its worst fire season in history. One of the worst fires located in Los Angeles and Ventura County named the Woolsey Fire. This wildfire burned; 96,949 acres and destroyed 1,643 structures. Three people reported to have died in the blaze, and over a quarter-million evacuated.
Miles away from the wild fire's front line, you can see a smoke cloud rising in the sky. Ash rains down on the population below, a warning that the fire is growing stronger. As the fires move closer to residential areas, whole neighborhoods are instructed to leave. Many people have little time to gather their belongings and take what matters the most to them. People are seen carrying their animals and photo albums out from their homes as fire trucks set a perimeter. Some feel confident enough to wait it out and arm themselves with garden hoses.
An arsenal is used to combat the fire. Military C-130 planes that carry thousands of pounds of Fire Retardant fly above the fire and pour the red substance ahead of the blaze. Helicopters scoop water from local water holes and dump their loads on the flames—the atmosphere on the fire's frontlines changes in seconds. The massive smoke blocks the sun and day turns to night, winds pick up and violently blow embers in all directs, searching for their next targets. Flames blow in the wild, creating incredible waves of fire and twisters. It is a scene that can only be described as apocalyptic.
Wildlife is the most vulnerable during these disasters; caught in the middle of the flames, they panic out of the area. A burnt rabbit's fur melted to its body, and the pain from its wounds was seen in the creature's eyes. Teams of people dispatched to help save these animals and help relocate them, but there are not enough resources to save many lives. Firefighters on the scene work hard, long hours battling the fires. They become soldiers in the fight against mother nature and its power. They put their fears behind them and march straight into the places where many are fleeing. They team together to ensure each others' safety. Scenes of these men and women hiking up steep hillsides armed with a plow and shovel. The only chance to save a community is to create a barrier from the fire.
As these fires grow every year, so do the casualties. These fires have shown me the real power of mother nature; it has shown me the resilience of communities affected and families who have lost so much. It has shown me what bravery is as I watched firefighter's step into the fray, as volunteers help escort horse from locked pens that could not be freed. These fires are only getting worse, and these scenes will remind us of the costs.