Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire

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 wildfire in a landscape context, revealing the 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 1,599 structures. As of Friday, it was 49 percent 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.

Whiskeytown Lake.
Whiskeytown Lake.
Photo: City of Redding

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.

Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding

The flames then reached the western edge of the city and marauded through the neighborhoods, including Lake Keswick and Land Park. Homes were devoured, pools turned greenish brown with ash and, later algae, and lawns turned gray.

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 behavior can be. Burnt out husks of houses sit next to their untouched neighbors. Twisted metal remnants of cars are just a few hundred feet from flimsy pool plastic pool chairs still intact. A hilltop of lush vegetation is surrounded by a charred landscape.

Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding

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.

Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding
Aerial Photos Reveal the True Horror of the Carr Fire
Photo: City of Redding

Managing editor, Earther

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DISCUSSION

Stunning photos. Best not forget that there are many more fires raging across the west of the continent having the same impact on thousands more.

Note: this is a map of CO2 concentration, the dark areas away from the large cities are where the fires are. The red spot in the middle of Alberta -outside of Edmonton- is mostly forested but does not appear to have an active fire, my guess* would be a concentration of gas from the BC fires. The red spot at Salt Lake City it most likely a combination* of CO2 from the city and the nearby fires. As for BC, it really is that bad for fires there right now.

*these guesses are based on looking at the particle animation flow

A lot of natural carbon sink in vegetation is being destroyed while adding to the carbon problem. It is going to take a lot of years to recover all the while the conditions for other similar events will continue to rise.