Dancing With the Devil

Sometimes that’s what it feels like, confronting another fire season in California. But last week, network news videographer Tim Walton found himself literally in that position, while covering the Jesusita Fire near Santa Barbara.

Walton spends much of his time chasing the state’s most threatening wildfires, shooting video for outlets like NBC Nightly News.

Santa Barbara "Fire Devil." Photo: Tim Walton
Santa Barbara "Fire Devil." Photo: Tim Walton

On Wednesday (5/6) he was shooting a “fully involved” home, when he was visited by a dangerous and awe-inspiring presence. In an email, he writes:

“I was filming the house when it felt like someone was standing next to me. I panned the camera over and this “fire devil” was spinning around outside the burning house. It came out a window for a few seconds and went right back where it came from in the house (of course “it” is just gases that were sucked out of the burning house by the wind and ignited by the heat).  The vortex stays as long as the wind.

BTW this fire started on the same date as the Summit Fire did last year, I observed the same type of fire behavior we saw early last season. I think we are in for a very interesting year. “

Fire devils are also referred to as “fire tornadoes” or “fire whirls.” Walton’s remarkable collection of photos from California wildfires is posted at his Flickr site. The photo of this “devil” is actually a still frame from some of his HD video:

Dancing With the Devil 12 May,2009Craig Miller

2 thoughts on “Dancing With the Devil”

  1. As an Uplink Engineer for Pacsat, My job is to transmit the footage of these brave video journalists who get so close to the action. Having seen the awesome footage in the past that Tim Walton has brought to my truck for transmission back to the network(s).
    Tim, over the years, has caught so much high quality footage, up close, that when I’m asked to feed it out live back to the networks, they know coming from Tim’s Camera, editing is not usually needed, He’s just that good.

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Craig Miller

Craig is a former KQED Science editor, specializing in weather, climate, water & energy issues, with a little seismology thrown in just to shake things up. Prior to that, he launched and led the station's award-winning multimedia project, Climate Watch. Craig is also an accomplished writer/producer of television documentaries, with a focus on natural resource issues.

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