My World's on Fire

By Colleen Hagerty

As long as there are stories to share


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My World's on Fire
As long as there are stories to share
By Colleen Hagerty • Issue #83 • View online
Thanks for reading My World’s on Fire, a weekly newsletter about disasters from journalist Colleen Hagerty. If you found this dispatch interesting, subscribe here for disaster deep-dives, Q&As, and context in your inbox every Thursday evening.

It’s been just over eight months since the Dixie Fire sparked in Northern California, burning a path of nearly 1 million acres through five counties, the Plumas National Forest, Lassen National Forest, and Lassen Volcanic National Park. In the weeks that it was active, thousands had to evacuate.
Debbie left in a car she ended up living out of for weeks with one other person, four dogs, and one cat.
Nicholas first discovered his house burned down after seeing a photo on social media.
Levi stayed for as long as possible, not wanting to leave his ancestral homeland behind.
 Levi Frank Mullen photographed by Joanne Burgueño (Dixie Fire Stories Project)
Levi Frank Mullen photographed by Joanne Burgueño (Dixie Fire Stories Project)
They shared their experiences of leaving behind homes that were gone when they returned with the Dixie Fire Stories Project, a Humans of New York-style page for survivors. Over the course of multiple posts, their stories unfold—their lives before the fire, glimpses into their relationships and businesses and hopes; their lives after, how their perspectives and priorities and desires have shifted.
Along with each post are photos, many of them taken by project co-founder and professional photographer Joanne Burgueño.
“Our page is to provide a safe haven and a safe platform for people to tell their stories,” Burgueño says of her and cofounder Sara Gray’s mission.
Debbie Cote Clark photographed by Joanne Burgueño (Dixie Fire Stories Project)
Debbie Cote Clark photographed by Joanne Burgueño (Dixie Fire Stories Project)
Burgueño and Gray live in Quincy, which was evacuated during the fire but ultimately spared by the fire, becoming something of a refuge for those displaced from surrounding communities.
(Note: If Quincy sounds familiar, it’s because I wrote about attending a prescribed burn there in a recent newsletter).
She describes her town and those that surround it as tight-knit; the loss of many homes and buildings in the nearby historic Greenville left her devastated and then frustrated as she noticed it fading from the headlines. The Dixie Fire was the second largest and one of the top 20 most destructive wildfires on record in the state, but Burgueño felt it was being forgotten within weeks of the flames getting extinguished.
“Greenville is a tiny town, and we really felt like people needed to be heard,” Burgueño says. “And so for us, it was about keeping them on the map, so to speak.”
Inspired by the intimate style of Humans of New York, Burgueño and Gray decided to create a dedicated platform to center survivor voices in their region with dignity. Burgueño began interviewing residents in September, often going with them back to the ruins of their homes to document what remains. The final posts on Facebook and Instagram, edited and compiled by Gray, often cover a similar span of time but are vastly different from person to person. Some accounts, including Levi’s mentioned above, have led to the creation of GoFundMe pages; others detail the difficult decisions professionals like the Plumas County Sheriff had to make as the fire approached. 
Sheriff Todd Johns photographed by Joanne Burgueño (Dixie Fire Stories Project)
Sheriff Todd Johns photographed by Joanne Burgueño (Dixie Fire Stories Project)
So far, Burgueño has spoken to more than 30 survivors—and counting. It can be difficult to carry these stories, she admits, but she believes the opportunity to speak openly is therapeutic for the survivors, as well as for the community members who read the accounts. She says a Dixie Fire Stories Project website is in the works, and her and Gray hope to broaden their interviews out to survivors of other wildfires in the future.
But for now, their focus remains on giving those who lived through the Dixie Fire a voice, attention, and compassion.
“As long as there are stories to share, we’re going to share them,” Burgueño says.
Thank you to Joanne Burgueño for her time and for allowing me to share some of her photos—you can view them all on the Dixie Fire Stories Project Facebook and Instagram pages.
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4 days until spring
This week in Weathered we feature a crossover story from @colleenhagerty and her newsletter, “My World’s on Fire.” She writes about the short window winter presents for CA residents to prepare for wildfires. “…there is no such thing as wildfire season…”
Now, here’s a little something for reading to the end.
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