Photos and video from the Windy Fire in Sequoia National Forest

Numerous giant sequoias were killed in the fire

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Windy Fire giant sequoias
Windy Fire. Image from the Mike McMillan video. 2021.

In 2021 the Windy Fire burned more than 97,000 acres in the Sequoia National Forest and the Tule River Reservation in California. It killed numerous giant sequoia trees which can live for up to 3,000 years. Mike McMillan of Spot Fire Images shot this video and still photos as the fire was burning. He served as a public information officer at the fire September 17-24, 2021.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

9 thoughts on “Photos and video from the Windy Fire in Sequoia National Forest”

  1. You did a nice showing this fire Mike, keep up the good work. And cource you can’t say enough about the the F/F’s on the job. A big “Thanks” to them!

  2. Excellent video – thank you so much for producing it and for making it available to the public to view. And heartfelt thanks to the firefighters who worked so diligently to protect these Sequoia groves under such dangerous conditions.

  3. Excellent coverage of the Windy Fire and the horrific conditions firefighters are faced with when battling strong wind-driven fire. Thanks, for your effort to capture that, Mike.
    This fire burned over country I recreated and worked in for approximately 32 years; from the time I was a youngster to later as a Humboldt State college student working summers, then a young forester at California Hot Springs RD, then sale administrator, and finally as Timber Staff on the Cannell Meadow RD.
    This loss of redwooods is more meaningful to me than I can describe.

  4. Awesome job Mike, it tells the story from the line and gives some insight into the “unknowable unless you’re there”. Excellent product of a fireline resource. At the end you list your quals as Task Force Leader and PIO. You are an AD, right? Previously an agency employee, a Smokejumper (both famous and infamous 🙂 Overall, you know your stuff out there. On this broad forum I would like to bring up the idea of asking the NWCG to reinstate the Photographer and Videographer quals and re-validate this exact use of your skills. There has been a core group of shooters who for decades have made it their passion and occupation to do this right, to tell the story, to record history, to speak to the public with transparency, to provide training material, to provide the visuals for the agency websites, to take it to Washington and show lawmakers what we’re dealing with, etc. I see it going away by not being supported. You are a case study here, because you’re obviously a professional shooter. While PIO is somewhat related, it’s got a huge laundry list of further duties that take up the hours during shifts. You have to be out there, sticking it out, hiking the hike and walking in step with the firefighters through it all. It needs to be a sanctioned position in the system again, and treated as all others, with task books and trainer/ trainee assignments for accountability and continuity. I’ve hung up my Nomex so this isn’t coming from self-interest. It’s important for humans to be able to see, feel and process the phenomena and the shooters can capture that broad- spectrum, not just the glory moments. I wish for the tellers of the story to continue for the generations. I hope that there is support out there.

    1. Thank you Kari! And thank you Lee, Martin, Jackie, Old Guy, and William, for your replies and kind reviews.
      I support NWCG re-instating Fireline Photographer/Videographer on red cards. But I also see a general disinterest/avoidance among many T1 and T2 incident commanders and PIO units to show their operations-at-work the way you shoot it Kari Greer – with wildfire experience, tact, skill, and always excellent. I miss seeing you out there. Last time we worked together, a new IMT came in from out of the area and ended my PIO photography, your fireline photo assignment, then blocked the media from the fire area. I think it was on “Trample Amendement 1 Day.” I’m a vocal supporter of CA 409.5: allowing media into fire areas/emergency areas. It should be a federal law. It recognizes that IMTs are not (often) able or willing (more often) to relay visual and first-hand information to the public. 409.5 places the first amendment first, with the liability of being on an emergency scene back on the media, not PIOs or IMTs. I love working with the media. We use each other well. But it is risky – they are untrained and in our loaned-out safety PPE including a fire shelter. I recently drafted a PIO media-escort liability waiver and made it public, I’d like it to be used. Kari Greer YOU should be the first person to become a PIO3 – you’re already way overqualified for this trial-NWCG position. Then you can accept AD assignments by name-request with the requesting IMT already knowing you are not the person to be posted up at Whole Foods in at a trapline board discussing natural resource management with curious passerby’s. NWCG is looking to augment a glaring lack of wildfire and public affairs experience among today’s PIOs by adding more of the same. But it could, in your case, be the ticket to being a special-use PIO. Perhaps the ideal position is best described as a Media THSP or Visual THSP (technical specialists, name-requests allowed.) As a PIO2, a vital part of my job is to document firefighters’ work first-hand. First I prefer to write the morning info update and knock out part of the trapline, if needed, and then cater to the media. I often get to the fireline in the heat of the day. Kari your work and commitment to sharing the ongoing story and struggle of wildland firefighters, protecting natural and man-made values, is also awe-inspiring and should continue. Wildland firefighters defending our homeland deserve a dedicated press corps. I hope you will dust off that Nomex before too long.

  5. Mike, really good info, thank you. I found out that the NWCG has reinstated the FOTO/ VIDO quals. I heard it from Jennifer Myslivy during an unrelated conversation about BLM photo contracting. I haven’t had a chance to look them up on the NWCG website yet to see what the descriptions/ requirements are, but it seems that they are back. Hopefully now people who desire to take these assignments and have the red card quals can meet the requirements for both the shooting and post production and the presumed necessary fireline quals to be able to be independent, capable and accountable resources on the line.

  6. Hey Mike, Good to see these photos and know you’re still out there documenting fire action. Hope to see you in Boise in August next year at the big reunion. Maybe you noticed I had a piece in WT about a week ago regarding the Rogue River – Siskiyou N.F. and their 120 fires and burned only 70 acres in 2020 and 2021. If not you might like to check it out. Strong IA is what we need now more than ever.

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