On March 5, 2022, the Cottonwood Complex Fire ravaged my parents’ neighborhood and the surrounding areas. More than 70 homes were lost and thousands of acres burned. Many of the homes in the area were built more than 40 years ago, including my parents’ A-frame. My parents built the house with their own hands with the help of family and friends in 1980. I was born in 1982. That house was the only home that I have ever had; my only safe space in a world of pain and suffering. Those five acres and the dirt roads that surrounded them were my place of support, of refuge, of adventure, and of love for my entire life.
When the fire swept through their neighborhood, I worried for my parents, our neighbors, and all of the animals that lived out there. As stories began to filter in from friends and family, we heard devastating stories of lost homes, lost pets, lost livestock, and the loss of our immediate neighbor to the south of our property. We also heard stories of heroism, support, and compassion from members in the community as our town pulled together to help those who had lost so much.
My family and I drove to my hometown the following weekend to view the damages and begin the clean-up process. In a morbid and macabre way, I decided to take my camera to capture the ruins of my childhood home. I knew that seeing and photographing the devastation would help me and my family process our grief down the line, though, I was not sure how.
We walked through the property, looking through the charred rumble, seeing if there was anything that could be saved. It was clear that the house and all of the outbuildings are a total loss. We would not find much until we started the clean-up.
I took photographs of the house, the garage, the vehicles, the barn, and the pastures those days in Hutch. Through the smoldering embers, the smoke, and the dust clouds, I sought glimmers of hope and beauty, even if they were in the midst of the horror.
The images that I took from that day and the days after are gut-wrenching. I still cry when I look at them. Each image feels like a wound reopening, raw and exposed. The moments I captured are raw and exposed, too. Calling the audience to not look away from the destruction, to connect with the pain and grief that rises from the darkness. But, I intentional included photographs of hope and rebirth, invoking the Phoenix’s rise from the ashes. So, too, may we rise from this tragedy to soar.
From the ashes of our pain, comes the rebirth of a Phoenix, bright and beautiful. Transformed by darkness, born of light. May its energy bring healing within our reach.