California has become synonymous with wildfire in the US. The Rim Fire burned almost 260,000 acres in 2013; the Butte Fire, 70,000 acres two years later; in 2019, the Kincade Fire destroyed 77,000 acres in Sonoma County, and by October 2021, the Caldor Fire had claimed more than 200,000 acres (and was still burning) in the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Photographer Max Whittaker has been at the scene of many of these fires to capture the worst of them on celluloid. His images are stark, visceral snapshots of disaster, chronicling the cost to wildlife, human life and homes, each photograph seared with either an orange glow or the ashy gray of the fallout. These photographs show a small piece of the wreckage from 2019 to 2021, much of it from smaller blazes that combine and form complex fires, devastating regions across Northern California.
Max Whittaker is a photojournalist covering social and environmental issues in California and the American West. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harper’s, Outside and the Washington Post.