Untitled photo
Untitled photo

Trail of Destruction: The Santiam Wildfire


Wildfire Summary

Lionshead Fire:

- 204,500+ acres burned with over 280 residences and other structures destroyed


Beachie Creek Fire:

- 193,600+ acres burned with over 1,300 residences and other structures destroyed


P-515 Fire:

- 4,609 acres burned 


This was easily my most challenging photo essay. This essay documents some of the damage the Lionshead, Beachie Creek and P-515 fires (collectively known as the Santiam Fire as they would all eventually merge) caused on Oregon's Route 22 in Santiam Pass during the  late summer of 2020. The wildfire's perimeter was an hour from my residence in Bend, Oregon. While I did not get images of the actual fires, I was able to get as much as I could both during and after the event, given travel restrictions. These wildfires literally exploded overnight, burning tens of thousands of acres in mere minutes.....not days or weeks. It took two months after the fires initially started (along with the removal of some 30,000 trees) before a 40 mile stretch of burned-out Route 22 was reopened to the public. The day after reopening, I drove the length of the affected route and documented what I saw. I made these images with a heavy heart. There's sadness, tragedy and death here. Lives lost; homes and businesses destroyed; dreams gone up in smoke. That said, within these images, there are observations to make, truths to be faced, lessons to be learned, hope to cling to, warnings to heed, choices to make and actions to take. Select images from this photo essay were featured in a full front page, full article spread in the Bend Bulletin.

~ Bill Breneman

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