Series > Oakland Firestorm at Twenty:
Hiller Highland and Hwy 24.  Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration.  Looking east. 1991.  Oakland California
Hiller Highland and Hwy 24.  Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration.  Looking east. 1991.  Oakland California
Upper Broadway Terrace, Highway 24 and Hwy 13; Clogged with traffic and emergency vehicles. Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration; Oakland California 1991
Highway 24 and Hwy 13; Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration; Oakland California 1991
Fire upon Hiller Highland and Tunne Roads, Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration, Oakland California 1991
Helicopter above Contra Costa Drive, Broadway Terrace and Lake Temescal; Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration; Oakland California 1991
Foundations and rubble in destroyed neighborhood.  Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration, Hiller Highland, above  fire origin, Oakland California 1991
Foundations. Berkeley Hills.  Oakland Firestorm 1991.
Destroyed Neighborhood.  Swainland Dr.  Oakland Fire Storm.  Oakland, California.
Burnt window. Mountain Blvd. Oakland Firestorm.  Oakland California 1992
Burned out home. Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration; Oakland California 1991
Burned Home. Mountain Blvd. Oakland Firestorm. Oakland, California.
Burned rubble. Mountain Blvd. Oakland Firestorm. Oakland, California.
Fireplace in rubble.  Upper Broadway Terrace.  Aftermath Oakland Firestorm 1991.
Clearing rubble. Oakland Firestorm October 21, 1991
Burnt jewelry. Oakland Firestorm October 21, 1991
Burned foundation and Oak Tree. Oakland Firestorm. Oakland, California.
Burnt and twisted metal house frame. Grizzly Peak. Oakland Firestorm 1991.
Foundations. Marlborough Terrace. Oakland Firestorm 1991.  Aftermath.
Melted Steel. Marlborough Terrace, Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration; Berkeley California 1991
Street Lamp. Hiller Highland. Aftermath Oakland Firestorm 1991.
Mailboxes, Tunnel Road, Oakland Firestorm and Conflagration; Oakland California 1991
Phone Booths. Upper Broadway Terrace. Aftermath Oakland Firestorm October 21, 1991
Destroyed forest. Oakland Hills above Hwy 24.  Broadway Terrace. Oakland Firestorm, California
contemporary landscape photographer california desert
Lone Oak. Mountain Blvd. Aftermath Oakland Firestorm 1991
Rebirth. Mountain Blvd. Aftermath Oakland Firestorm 1991.
Surveying hydroseeding. Fairlane Dr. Aftermath Oakland Firestory 1992
Don't Want Or Need Anything.  Aftermath Oakland Firestorm 1991.
For Sale View Lot. Aftermath Oakland Firestorm 1991.
Homeowners.  Aftermath Oakland Firestorm 1991.
Self-portrait. Aftermath Oakland Firestorm.

Oakland Firestorm at Twenty

2011 marked the 20th anniversary of the historic Oakland Firestorm, which swept through the Oakland hills on October 20, 1991. At the time, I had recently completed a two-year solo journey around the world and was staying at my family home in the area. Having become well-adjusted to living out of a backpack and bouncing along mountain passes in fatigued buses, suddenly being left homeless was something for which I was oddly well prepared.

The greater impact, I would discover, was that of having the setting of my youth, neighborhood and all, cleared from the landscape. Even today, upon returning to the street where I grew up, the structures mean little, while a 40-year-old crack in the pavement will bring back a flood of memories. In the years that followed I dealt with that day with both camera and pen.

Looking back at the firestorm now, I realize how much that day has followed me. I am more attuned to the changes in the weather and seasons. A warm wind can put me on edge. I am more discerning when reading the land. What I once perceived as permanent — the forest, the hills, our homes and city — I now see as ever changing.

Most remarkable, though, is how I had failed to realize the extent to which our families, communities, institutions, and possessions insulate us, for good and ill, from forces beyond our control. The fire not only stripped the land, but also splintered families and communities. Those very institutions that we believe in so deeply that we become blind to them, seemed to have vanished. With the loss of our possessions also came a loss of identity and belonging. We were naked, adrift — and free. It was painfully clear that, all along, chaos had been just below the surface.

Immediately we were consumed with securing housing, cobbling together necessities, and negotiating with bureaucracies and corporations, all the while recapturing our familial and professional routines. A broader community of family, friends, old neighbors, and strangers immediately reached out to us. The fire survivors organized and leaned on one another. At times it felt as if we were rebuilding our very democracy.

That terrible day. This beautiful place. We have been blessed in the most poignant way.

 

Photography

From the first signs of smoke I began photographing the fire zone, both its destruction and rebirth. The early images were taken on the morning of the fire, before we realized the immensity of the catastrophe to follow. The aftermath photography recorded over a number of years depicts family loss and reconstruction.

 

Writings

Years later I chose to open my book of travel essays, A Vagabond World, with my recollection of that day. The fire seemed the perfect metaphor for the cleansing and renewal found in travel. I also referenced the fire in the foreword to Lake Tahoe: A Fragile Beauty, my monograph of Lake Tahoe. Our relationship with fire is an indication of how young our civilization is and, as such, how we have yet to fully grasp nature's change agents.

These essays can be found here:

All Content © Thomas Bachand