DAVID MCNEW, United States 

“The Silver Fire erupted mid-afternoon on August 7 in the San Jacinto Mountains, south of Banning, California. Before long, I was on assignment for Reuters and progressing slowly through rush hour traffic as a massive smoke column pushed into the sky 80 miles away. 

The fire was growing at a rate of about a thousand acres per hour. Reporters in the sky estimated the front to be ten miles wide. Structures were burning. Firefighters had already been injured and a resident was badly burned. Low humidity and drought-depleted vegetation were feeding this latest in a series of wildfire disasters to hit the West this year. 

By the time I punched through the fire front and made my way up the winding two-lane mountain road to the backcountry homes and ranches of the Twin Pines Road area, many were already fully engulfed in flames, walls collapsing, impossible to save. The scene was typical of major wildfire disasters in California: firefighters rushing past burning structures in search of something or someone to save; an occasional resident holding an impotent-looking garden hose; a few news crews and photographers assessing the situation, looking for safe zones and deciding where to go next. 

Night fell quickly and as the last remaining walls of one flaming house caved in, it illuminated two firefighters with a hose trying to keep an old oak tree next to it from igniting. I moved on to the next burning home and stars filled the sky as a strong wind blew the smoke aside, fanning countless burning stumps and embers that blanketed the hot, dark hills like fallen stars or peaceful crackling campfires.” 

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV, lens 70-200mm, f2.8, 1/64, ISO 2000 

Caption: Firefighters spray water near a burning house in the Twin Pines Road area at the Silver Fire near Banning, California August 7, 2013.

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