Wildfires in California can be as varied as the state's geography. There are some that race through crowns of pine forests and there are others, like the current Rocky Fire, that sprout seemingly randomly from the dry earth of oak woodlands. For photographers, the state offers a unique and sometimes dangerous opportunity to closely catalogue the devastation. California state law permits all credentialed media access to the blazes.
Max Whittaker (@maxwhittaker, primecollective.com) is a freelance photojournalist based in Sacramento and a frequent presence at the state’s largest fires. He also covers news and social and environmental issues in the West for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harper's, San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters and many other news outlets.
The fires Whittaker photographs can consume tens of thousands of acres, and figuring out the rhythms of wildfires and the crews that cover them takes time. But the primary safety rule is simple: Stay in the black; what has already burnt can't burn again. Here, Whittaker shares some of his strongest images from the fire line, including several from the currently burning Rocky Fire.