Photographer: Stuart Palley

California's Costly Wildfire Season Might Never End

L.A.-based photographer Stuart Palley has been chasing deadly wildfires for years now, watching the fire season get longer and longer as global warming creates a hotter, drier environment. Here, he gives us an up-close-and-personal look at the wildfires that might soon rage year-round.

  1. Fighting Fire with Fire

    Fighting Fire with Fire

    "Firefighters intentionally lit that entire hill on fire to stop the main fire. It's a tactic used when the fire gets really crazy and they've tried everything else to stop it."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  2. Sparks Fly

    Sparks Fly

    "The wind picked up and started blowing embers off the trees. We're protected, but sometimes you'll get an ember on your neck, on the back of your hand or down your shirt. It will sting, but it doesn't burn you."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  3. Rescue Ride

    Rescue Ride

    "You can see by the flag how windy it was. They were able to save the house there, but there was a trailer on the property that burned down. If things go south, you need to get the trucks out of there quickly."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  4. Saving a Stable

    Saving a Stable

    "The fire started bearing down on a horse ranch. They were evacuating the horses, just trying to get them out as quickly as possible. As a stable started to catch on fire, firefighters came running through the smoke and ash to try to save the property."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  5. Reflected Light

    Reflected Light

    "This is a reflection in the back window of a pickup truck. You can see the firefighters hiking around it."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  6. Explosive Situation

    Explosive Situation

    "It was so windy that embers were blowing from trees onto the house. The firefighters had to abandon it, because there were explosives inside: guns and ammo—it sounded like 20-caliber rounds going up—and paint cans and a propane tank. I had 30 seconds to take that picture and get the hell out of there."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  7. Torching a Hillside

    Torching a Hillside

    "He's holding a drip torch in his left hand; it uses a combination of gasoline and diesel fuel. The idea is that there will be nothing left to burn when the main fire reaches the area. He's just got done setting that hill on fire."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  8. Above the Blaze

    Above the Blaze

    "The line at the top is the trail of an airplane that's circling, mapping the perimeter of the fire. They have two or three planes flying around in shifts, day and night, coordinating efforts on the ground."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  9. Prison Break

    Prison Break

    "They use a lot of prison labor to do the dirty work on the fires. These guys were taking a 15-minute lunch break after walking eight hours straight; the fire was going crazy and they were making sure it wasn't crossing the fire line, putting out hotspots. They're watched closely, but they're treated like firefighters first and prisoners only when necessary."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  10. Sky and Flame

    Sky and Flame

    "At night, your naked eye can see the Milky Way like that, but it takes a long exposure for the camera to pick it up. You have the darkness of the sky, and the warmth and brightness of the fire, which is a fascinating juxtaposition to me."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  11. Burned Out

    Burned Out

    "This was a bulldozer transport that was caught when the wind shifted. They're basically semi trucks, so they couldn't get out of the way fast enough. It's rare something like this happens; there will be an investigation and a report, they use it as a learning experience."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  12. Self-Portrait


    "This picture was shot at 10:30 at night. They had lit an entire hillside on fire as a backfire operation, so there was a lot of ambient light. I put the camera on a tripod and set it for a 30-second exposure, mostly as a momento to myself of going to that fire."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley

  13. Dead Forest

    Dead Forest

    "The Joshua tree is an endangered species; they evolved to survive fires, but these fires burn so hot it's beyond what they're adapted for. They're being decimated. It takes a long time for them to grow, and these fires are happening so quickly that they're not growing back."

    Photographer: Stuart Palley