The pictures from the ground of the Carr Fire showed devastation on a human scale. But new aerial imagery released by the city of Redding puts the massive bushfire in a landscape context, revealing both the power and capriciousness of one the most destructive fires in California history.
Firefighters and sheriffs used drones to better assess the damage wrought by the fire and to piece together the history of what happened two weeks ago when it stormed Redding, a city of 90,000, overnight. The blaze has killed at least eight, burned 178,752 acres, and razed 1599 structures. As of Friday, it was 49 per cent contained.
The fire swept in from the west of the city where it burned largely in tracts of forest around Whiskeytown Lake. The images from there show charred trees and denuded hillsides.
But as the fire crept toward the city, it cut through small communities and homesteads at what researchers call the wildland-urban interface. Houses and cabins sitting amongst the forest lit up along Rock Creek Road and the tiny town of Keswick.
The flames then reached the western edge of the city and marauded through the neighbourhoods, including Lake Keswick and Land Park. Homes were devoured, pools turned greenish brown with ash and later algae, and lawns turned grey.
The devastation of California’s sixth-most destructive fire is clear in the smoky light of day, but the birds’ eye view shows just how unpredictable fire behaviour can be. Burnt out husks of houses sit next to their untouched neighbours. Twisted metal remnants of cars are just a few dozen metres from flimsy pool plastic pool chairs still intact. A hilltop of lush vegetation is surrounded by a charred landscape.
Climate change is stretching fire season and making large fires more common. At the same time, people are moving to fire-prone areas. The images show what the combination looks like, and they’ll also give researchers and fire managers clues for how to fight the next major blaze that finds its way into town.
You can see more imagery below, and there’s even more available, including 360 panoramas, through Redding’s GIS group.
As a reminder, this imagery was captured by professionals who were permitted by the state’s fire agency to fly within the fire’s perimeter. Do not fly your drone in an area where firefighters are actively working or assessing damage.