Camping Out With Long-Distance
Camping Out With Long-Distance Firefighters
Photographs by Justin Maxon
Text by Elise Craig
Audio reported and edited by
Antonia Cereijido and Jonaki Mehta
Fire season in California used to last from June to October. Now the blazes have been so constant and so large that Cal FIRE, the agency that oversees wildfires across most of the state, doesn’t even bother referring to a season. Sometimes, firefighters are sent directly from one fire to the next.
The Mendocino Complex Fire — a convergence of two blazes that consumed 459,123 acres and 280 structures, and killed one firefighter — was the largest fire ever to strike California. It burned for 55 days. Combating a fire of that magnitude requires incredible resources: more than $200 million and crews from not only California, but states ranging from Utah to New Hampshire, two foreign countries, and the National Guard. The thousands of firefighters at the Mendocino fire left their families behind for weeks at a time to live near the flames. They worked shifts as long as 30 hours and slept in portable bunks, on the ground, wherever they could.