On October 8th, 2017, various fires began burning in the North Californian counties of Sonoma, Napa, Lake, Mendocino, Butte and Solano, eventually growing to become the costliest wildfires to burn in the State of California. In late October, I traveled to the city of Santa Rosa in Sonoma county from Los Angeles to photograph the people affected by the Tubbs Fire and collect the stories of their experience with the fire; people who lost everything to the fire, the first responders, city officials, those helping with the relief efforts.
Levi Leipheimer, a former pro cyclist and the founder of the nationally popular "Levi's Gran Fondo" group bike ride lost his house and the contents therein to the fire. He partnered his charitable foundation King Ridge Foundation with Russian River Brewing Company and Carlos Perez and Bike Monkey, the organizer for the Fondo, to create the Sonoma Pride Fundraiser to assist the victims of the fires. To date, they've raised almost half a million dollars. Gina Gulino moved to Santa Rosa with her boyfriend from LA just a month before the fires burned down their apartment. They were left to negotiate the aftermath without a network of family or friends in the area to rely upon. Victor Oteri and Carlton Willis are a retired couple who have been forced to evacuate from their mobile home in Journey's End Mobile Home Park. At the time of the interview, they were living at a hotel without a clear answer from the owners of Journey's End about the fate of their home, one of the few left standing in the park. They and others including farmers, doctors, retired scientists, college student, the mayor of Santa Rosa, a nurse, a restaurant critic who started a food donation program, body shop mechanic, and bike company owner all graciously welcomed me and shared their stories with me.
I photographed them to help share their stories with the world so that the public would have a better understanding of what it's like to experience a tragedy like this. I photographed them so that they won't be forgotten as it will take years for them and their community to recover. I thought this was the way I can best help with the recovery efforts. I didn't know how my idea would be received. I was apprehensive that I would be met with hostility from the people recovering from their losses, busy trying to put their lives back together; concerned that I would be intruding on their lives when they were at their most vulnerable. Instead, I found them open and understanding, almost eager to share their stories, as if by telling them, they can unburden themselves from the experience. I had no idea how many people I would photograph or how long I would be up in Santa Rosa. I ended up photographing 49 people in 30 shoots over the course of 11 days.
I hope you can take the time to see their portraits, read about their experiences and help with the recovery process.
Thanks for looking.