California Calamities: A State of Emergency

Featuring: Carolyn Cole, Katie Falkenberg, Gina Ferazzi, Irfan Khan, Mel Melcon, Genaro Molina, Al Schaben, Al Seib, Wally Skalij, Marcus Yam

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The Los Angeles Times

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During the past two years, California has experienced some of the deadliest calamities in the state’s 169-year history. Not since the San Francisco earthquake in 1906 have so many lives been lost.

Los Angeles Times staff photographers have traveled the world covering natural and man-made disasters. But even these seasoned journalists have been shocked by the scale of the damage they have witnessed so close to home in recent years.

The town of Paradise, destroyed by the Camp Fire last fall, was still smoldering when photojournalist Carolyn Cole reached the scene three days after the blaze ignited. “I was stunned by the devastation,” she said, “house after house burned to the ground with only chimneys standing for miles.”
Roaring wildfires fueled by tornado-force winds ravaged the foothill communities of Paradise and Sonoma in the north and Malibu in the south, killing more than 100 people. Tens of thousands were left homeless. “This one felt different for the sheer size of it,” says photojournalist Wally Skalij of the recent fires in Southern California. “I’ve covered previous fires in Malibu, and they are usually around 20,000 acres, 25,000 acres. But this one grew to 100,000 acres. And it just felt massive, it just felt more devastating.”

Years of drought had turned surrounding forests and grasslands into tinderboxes, causing flames to jump from house to house faster than firefighters could respond. After the fires came more devastation, when rains triggered flash floods and mudslides.

These tragedies have been spurred in part by our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels, which have been linked to the gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere. Research has shown that global warming is responsible for a dangerous rise in extreme weather conditions in California and across the county.

As more Californians seek to escape crowded cities for the beauty and space in our foothills, man and nature will continue to clash in deadly and destructive ways. Catastrophic events like the Camp Fire are nature’s warning to us all.

Make sure to also check out An Evening with LA Times Photographers at Photoville LA.