The American Wildfire Experience began as The Smokey Generation, a wildland fire oral history project started by founder, Bethany Hannah, as part of her Master’s thesis project in 2014. The Smokey Generation is a website dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing the stories and oral history of wildland fire – we’ve collected stories from wildland firefighters representing every decade from the 1940s to present.
The project contains a rich collection of histories, experiences, and perspectives. Well worth a visit! TheSmokeyGeneration.com
Last year, California experienced what became (at the time) the largest wildland fire in the state’s history, the Thomas Fire. Striking in its ferocity and driven by prolonged Santa Ana winds, the Thomas Fire set responders back on their heels and disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands of residents in the fire’s vicinity. Just over a month after ignition, while the fire was still yet uncontained, seasonal rains came through the fire area and triggered a series of debris flows that killed 23 people (two people remain missing). While wildland fires are part of life in Southern California, what is remarkable about this fire, is it started and rapidly grew to 281,893 acres in the month of December.
The American Wildfire Experience has teamed up with MYSTERY RANCH and GIS company Gage Carto, to create a web-based digital story exploring the Thomas Fire from ignition through recovery. One part exploration of how we, as a collective, experience wildland fires, and one part data-driven examination of how the Thomas Fire became one of the largest wildland fires in California’s history, this project aims to help capture and share the story of this unique fire using a blend of oral history and digital storytelling techniques. Through crowdsourced content, oral history interviews, and interactive maps, this project will shine the light on first responders, wildland firefighters, community members, and the Thomas Fire itself – conveying and showcasing some of the stories and experiences that came out of this historic event.