Wildfire Progression Series

We might think of wildfires as natural disasters, but in reality, as many as 90% of wildfires are caused by human activity like carelessly discarded cigarettes, downed power lines, or arson. The remaining 10% are chance occurrences such as lightning strikes. 

Wildfire is a natural phenomenon, a regular and necessary process for a forest ecosystem. At the same time, it can be very harmful and destructive to human lives.  The Wildfire Progression Series examines these opposing perspectives, and brings attention to the dissonant forces at play in wildland areas that have regularly burned throughout history, and are increasingly being developed for human use. 

The source data used to create these works is the California Department of Forestry Fire and Resource Assessment Program’s fire progression maps of the Rim Fire, Stanislaus National Forest, CA; the Cedar Fire, San Diego County; and the Camp Fire, Butte County.

Cedar Fire Progression

Record: The third largest wildfire in California history

Cause: Signal Fire

Duration: October 25 - December 5, 2003

Total Burned Area: 280,278 acres

Buildings Burned: 2,820

Fatalities: 15

 

This sculpture embodies the shape of the Cedar Fire as it expanded geographically over the first 114 hours that it burned. This wildfire was part of the “2003 Firestorm” event in San Diego County and at the time it was the largest recorded wildfire in California’s history. The fire was intentionally started by a novice hunter who became lost and wanted to signal rescuers. Due to the heat, low humidity and low moisture, and high winds, the hunter quickly lost control of the fire. The massive burn area totaled 280,278 acres, destroyed 2,820 buildings, and caused 15 fatalities, including one firefighter.

The drawing below and the related sculpture are two iterations of the same fire event interpreted into different forms. Adrien Segal originally created this drawing from a birds-eye view of the fire’s progression as a CAD (Computer Aided Design) model, rendered geometrically as a three dimensional surface defined by contour lines and shading. She then rendered the drawing by hand, resulting in the work you see here. The lines were meticulously inked with freehand brush strokes and charcoal shading was carefully built up to create a sense of depth.

Camp Fire Progression

Records: Deadliest and most destructive wildfire in California history 

Cause: Electrical transmission fire

Duration: November 8 - November 25, 2018

Total Burned Area: 153,336 acres

Buildings Burned: 18,804

Fatalities: 85

 

The Camp Fire was ignited by a faulty electric transmission line in Northern California on November 8, 2018. Largely driven by extreme weather conditions — high winds and low humidity — the fire spread through fuels parched by more than 200 days without significant precipitation.

An easterly wind drove the fire downhill through the town of Concow and became an urban firestorm in the foothill town of Paradise. A firestorm is a conflagration which attains such intensity that it creates its own wind system. The towns of Paradise and Concow were almost completely destroyed, each losing about 95% of structures in town, and the fires rapid spread caused 85 civilian fatalities.

Rim Fire Progression

Records: The 3rd largest fire (at the time) in California history

Cause: Illegal campfire

Duration: August 17 through September 24, 2013

Total Burned Area: 257,314 acres

Buildings Burned: 112

Fatalities: None

 

The Rim Fire started in 2013 when a lost hunter lost control of an illegal campfire in a remote canyon in the Stanislaus National Forest just outside of Yosemite National Park. The fire doubled in size overnight and within four days had consumed 100,000 acres. The fire's rapid spread was attributed to a record-breaking drought, a heat wave, past fire suppression efforts that had altered the normal fire regime, population growth, and Forest Service budget cuts. The artist gathered some of the charred wood from the area of the Rim Fire and made her own ink using the charcoal, which she used to create this drawing.