The Waterfall Fire: Photos From One Year Later

Curry Street / C Hill

On July 14, 2004, a small wildfire started at the top of Kings Canyon. Within hours it was raging out of control, and by the end of the week 18 homes were destroyed and over 8,000 acres burnt. I was there watching from the periphery, and after the flames were out I went on a drive of Kings Canyon and other burned areas to survey the damage.

One year later, in July of 2005, I returned to the same areas and tried to retake my old photographs exactly. The idea is to see how well man and nature are coping with returning to normal after the devastation. These are those pictures.

July 14, 2004: On the first day of the fire I stopped along Curry Street and snapped this picture. The fire was still in Kings Canyon then, but no one knew that it was within hours of sweeping over that ridge and threatening all of Curry Street.

July 15, 2004: The next day, the damage had been done. The entire hillside was blackened, although thanks to the firefighters only one house and one commercial building were destroyed on Curry. You can see the smoke from the fire still raging in the distance.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the grasses on the hillside have grown back. You’d never know there was a fire here unless you drove up and got a close look at the charred stumps of sagebrush dotting the hillside.

July 14, 2004: Here are a few pictures from when the fire was raging. This was the view from Carson Middle School, looking up Kings Canyon. CMS was used as a command center for the units fighting the fire.

July 14, 2004: Residents watch the fire burn.

July 14, 2004: This view from Clearview Street shows a helicopter dumping a load of water on the fire. At this point it was advancing very quickly along the hills above Curry Street.

July 14, 2004: The firefighters made their stand on the hill above Casino Fandango, by constructing a large firebreak in the dry brush.

July 14, 2005: One year later, you can see how well the firebreak worked. Sagebrush gives in to grass right at the dirt road. Nothing south of this point burned.

July 15, 2004: The day after the fire came though, this shot from Curry Street shows the blackened hillside, and the many houses that were saved.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the grasses have grown back, even though they are now dying in the hot summer sun. The north slopes still have a little green, while everything to the south has been baked to a dry, crisp brown.

July 15, 2004: There was one commercial structure destroyed in the Waterfall Fire, this shop that was in the process of being vacated.

July 16, 2005: One year later, it has been rebuilt better than ever. For one thing, it’s now made of brick, the same as the other buildings next door that survived the fire.

July 31, 2004: At the base of C Hill, it was like stepping into a moonscape. A few charred rocks and burnt stumps were the only thing left standing. A single dirt road winds its way into the distance.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the grass has grown so high that you can’t even see the rocks anymore. And the roads have been closed to all traffic until the hillside is fully rehabilitated.

July 31, 2004: C Hill, looking up at the “C”. A few sagebrush survived here, but not many.

July 14, 2005: One year later, a new sign reminds us that the roads are closed. And, up on the hill, the new American flag is in place next to the “C”. It’s a lucky thing the flag was delayed; if it had been in place when the fire rushed through, I’m not sure what kind of damage it would have suffered.

July 31, 2004: This house had plenty of defensible space, as well a very very handy firebreak there with the driveway. The owners were probably evacuated and sweating for a while, but ultimately had nothing to worry about. The black hillside is a grim reminder of what could have happened, though.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the hillside has recovered, and everything is back to normal.

Kings Canyon

July 31, 2004: The fire washed right over this hillside, but it left the sagebrush in the valley alone.

July 14, 2005: One year later, you can clearly make out the road that acted as a firebreak to keep the flames in the hills here.

July 31, 2004: A little further up the canyon, the fire was right by the roadside. It came through here, but left some of the bushes untouched.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the sign reads, “No Fires.” Good advice, I’d say.

July 31, 2004: Another hillside that was comletely charred.

July 14, 2005: One year later, a few dead skeletons still poke through the new grasses and bushes that are growing in.

July 31, 2004: The driveway for 3601 Kings Canyon. There used to be a nice wooded area right next to the stream, but it was reduced to ash.

July 14, 2005: One year later, all the dead trees have been removed, except for a few remaining stumps that look like some kind of twisted sculpture.

July 31, 2004: A partially burnt building amongst the trees.

July 14, 2005: One year later, a lot of the trees are gone, but the building has been rebuilt.

July 31, 2004: One of the unlucky residents. The only thing left on this lot was the windmill.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the house is just now being rebuilt. But the windmill still stands as a silent witness to the horror of last summer.

July 31, 2004: A closeup shows a charred Jeep and the windmill.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the walls are going up on a new house. And the windmill has a new friend, a Sani-Hut.

July 31, 2004: Where the pavement ends is this Forest Service kiosk. Ironically, the right part of the kiosk, the part most badly burned, was the part that outlined the area’s fire restrictions.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the kiosk has been replaced, bigger and better. And the “No Fires” notice is no longer hidden in the fine print.

July 31, 2004: At the top of Kings Canyon is this service road, which leads to the famous waterfall which was the fire’s namesake. Most of the trees here were badly burned.

July 14, 2005: One year later, a lot of the dead trees have been removed, although a few still remain.

July 31, 2004: The house at 4400 Kings Canyon was the first to burn. Only the stone foundation and chimney were spared. Ted Stokes’ story can be found here.

July 14, 2005: One year later, most of the trees have been removed, and the house is being rebuilt.

July 31, 2004: Another view of 4400 Kings Canyon.

July 14, 2005: One year later, the burnt tree stumps really stand out. As Ted Stokes himself said in this article, “On the positive side, we have a better view than we had before.”

July 31, 2004: From Carson Middle School, a view of the burnt C Hill.

July 14, 2005: One year later, much of the vegetation has regrown, and the view has returned to normal. Some of the scars left by this fire, though, will take longer than just one year to heal.

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