November 21, 2021

At the Tipping Point: Wildfire Threatens Tahoe

Photo: Justin Sullivan. Caption: Twin Bridges, California, Aug 30, 2021. The Caldor Fire destroyed dozens of structures along Highway 50 near Twin Bridges, CA as it advances towards South Lake Tahoe. The fire has burned over 165,000 acres, destroyed over 650 structures and the containment dropped from 19% to 13%. Firefighters are bracing for red flag conditions which will bring dangerous winds that could push the fire into the Tahoe Basin.


At the tipping point.

By Michael Shaw


There’s a scientific term for the way our bodies detect levels of temperature or heat in the environment. It’s called thermoception. And as simple as it is to understand if you’re underdressed in a freezer or toiling over a hot oven, I would suggest that it also functions emotionally. I say that because Justin Sullivan’s photo overloaded my circuits. This image of the Caldor Fire from this Lake Tahoe ski lift is not just surreal because of the lighting, the color, the flames. It’s otherworldly because my body can’t really process it. It makes me want to shiver but I’m not sure in what way. And that is the lift we’re on now.

2021 was a tipping point. Fires, floods, heatwaves, and hurricanes scaled up, as did the mass recognition of climate change as an existential crisis. As part of that recognition, many brilliant, symbolically-laden pictures crystallized the moment.

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Michael Shaw
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