Over the past few weeks, dozens of wildfires have spread across our state – ravaging communities and blanketing the skies in a smoggy haze.

We have all seen the devastating images. How are photographers able to risk life and limb to capture these moments?

What You Need To Know

  • Kent Nishimura says this is his third fire season and says it feels like they are getting bigger and bigger

  • For all the photographers that are covering these fires, most are outfitted in the same gear as the firefighters

  • They wear fire-resistant clothing, helmets, goggles, respirators, the only difference is that photographers have a set of cameras and firefighters have hoses

  • Capturing these images can take an emotional toll on him, but Nishimura reminds himself to take a break and watch out for each other

LA Times staff photographer Kent Nishimura joined us to take us behind-the-scenes.

Nishimura said this year is his third fire season, and he feels they are getting bigger and bigger.

"Over the last couple of weeks, I've been able to see a lot of different things. Some of the images that stood out to me were photographing the Laguna hotshot trying to do structure protection on a hydroelectric plant in Big Creek during the Creek Fire. They were hiking down a hillside backlit by the glow of the sky, and you could see these small specs of their headlamps on. There was like a weird haunting beauty to it, but also the grim reminder of the structures behind them,” Nishimura said.

Nishimura has also been there for some of the most challenging moments in people's lives. He has witnessed people lose their homes and personal belongings.

"I've met so many different people while out on the fires and they've been so open and welcoming despite everything they're going through. It's an exceptionally tough time for them, and for them to welcome the press with open arms and let us make their voices be heard is really incredible," added Nishimura.

When it comes to capturing these images, Nishimura has to hike into different spots, which can be risky for him.

"There's been a couple of times where I've been pretty nervous. For all the photographers that are covering these fires, most of us our outfitted in the same gear as the firefighters. We wear fire-resistant clothing, and we have helmets, goggles, respirators; the only difference is that I have a set of cameras, and they have hoses. We have to keep an eye out for dangers," said Nishimura.

Nishimura also keeps an eye out on the firefighters. 

He said if firefighters move out of an area, they have to do it, too. When firefighters were doing structure protection during the Creek Fire, there was a point where the winds started picking up, and embers were flying everywhere. At that point, the firefighters and photographers knew they had to evacuate that area.

Nishimura noticed a pattern in this year's fires. They burned in mountainous wooded regions, which makes them more difficult to access for both firefighters and photographers.

"These mountain roads are one way in, one way out. They're whiny, and they're narrow, and it's kind of hard to get the trucks in there sometimes. Firefighters even have hike up steep inclines to get to where the fire is," said Nishimura.

Nishimura said capturing these images can take an emotional toll on him, but he reminds himself to take a break.

"We have to take care of each other, especially photographers that are buddying up together. We look up to each other. And we have to make time to take a break and relax to self-reset," added Nishimura.