“My God this fire came right through my neighborhood”

October 26, 2007

The quote above is from an interview with Adam Baron, a You Witness contributor, whose powerful images form a part of citizen journalists’ documentation of the raging fires in Southern California and their aftermath. Reuters readers have provided pictures to You Witness News from when the fires began in Malibu to the ruins in Fallbrook. Here is a selection of the best images.

Baron, who works at Pepperdine University, Malibu, and is responsible for students who stay on campus, gives us an insight into what it was like living and working with the fires ravaging areas nearby.

Around the world there are certain places that awaken our imagination and serve as symbols of everything we associate with a particular region of our world. Southern California and particularly Malibu, California is that kind of place for many people. It is America’s paradise hub and the place where many of Western culture’s creative elite make their residence. Therefore when fires ran through “Shangri-La” this week and ran through greater Southern California, something of a sobering and sublime mood also laid claim on its people and pristine landscape.

The unbiased weather did not discriminate where the winds would blow or where burning embers would land. The result led to the spectacular reality and images of Mother Nature’s continuing reminder that wealth, power, beauty, and fame cannot protect us. Rather we have been humbled and are simply grateful to the brave men and women who fought these fires from land and air to preserve something of our way of life here. We now begin the task of counting our losses and rebuilding.

On the campus of Pepperdine University in Malibu, California students have returned to classes and the tasks of writing papers and preparing for exams. Here everyone is indebted to the university leadership and emergency contingency plans they prepared in advance for such an occasion. Many students chose to leave campus, but for those who heeded the council of administration to stay, they witnessed nature’s fury and humanity’s best instinct to preserve and protect.

There are many moving parts when something so daunting strikes at such a large area. No doubt there will be armchair editors ready to explain what and how things could have been handled better. In my view such questions miss the main point. If these questioned raised by the media or residence affected by the fires aim to get at improving response time and governmental engagement, those are fair questions.

However, we must also consider the human element and how ‘we the people’ use the land. I don’t mean to say that we caused the fires or get into a discussion about global warming. All I am saying is that paradise was here, along with the Santa Ana winds and the beautiful landscape, long before the people. We’ve learned how to split an atom and fly a man to the moon, but we haven’t learned how to manage the weather, and I am not sure we ever will or that we are supposed to.

I am confident that we must continue to explore our place on this small planet and our indebted relationship to it. It is a slippery task but the reason I taking photographs like these is to somehow grab hold of this relationship and honor it.

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