What Fire Reveals: Stories from the CZU August Lightning Fires in The Santa Cruz Mountains

Photo by Shmuel Thaler

In the early morning hours of August 16, 2020, 12,000 lightning strikes exploded across northern California, igniting more than 585 wildfires. In the Santa Cruz Mountains scattered blazes grew into one massive burning organism — The CZU August Lightning Complex Fire — eating all in its path, scorching some 86,000 acres, destroying over 900 homes and Big Basin Redwoods, California’s first state park. A year later the fire is still burning deep in some of the roots and stumps of ancient trees.

In the aftermath, The Kitchen Sisters turned their microphones on the region, looking for what was lost and what has been found since lightning struck.

This story grew out of a collaboration with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. People who lost their homes in the blaze were invited to bring in artifacts found in the ashes to be photographed by award winning photographer Shmuel Thaler and interviewed by The Kitchen Sisters about the fire, their homes, the environment, their lives. These stories and photographs are part of an exhibition at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History.

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson) and mixed by Jim McKee in collaboration with Grace Rubin, Brandi Howell and Nathan Dalton.

Special thanks to photographer Shmuel Thaler, The Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, The Amah Mutsun Land Trust and Stewardship Program, UCSC Professor Dana Frank, California State Parks, Mark Hylkema, Martin Rizzo Martinez, Jennifer Daly, and all of the many who shared their stories for the historical record.

With support from The California Humanities and The National Endowment for the Arts.