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Photo by Orbie Pullen

What Fire Reveals: Stories from the Amah Mutsun, Big Basin and the Lightning Fires in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History

In the early morning hours of August 16, 2020, 12,000 lightning strikes exploded across northern California, igniting more than 585 wildfires. In the Santa Cruz Mountains scattered blazes grew into one massive burning organism — The CZU August Lightning Complex Fire — eating all in its path, scorching some 86,000 acres, destroying over 900 homes and Big Basin, California’s first state park.

In this audio documentary produced by the Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson) , we hear from young men and women from the Amah Mutsun Tribal band who have been working to clear and steward the land; archaeologists and historians from the historic Big Basin redwood State Park; and from residents of the Santa Cruz mountains who shared their experiences and stories for the historical record.

This story grew out of a collaboration with the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History. People who lost their homes in the blaze were invited to bring in artifacts sifted from the ashes to be photographed by award winning photographer Shmuel Thaler and to be interviewed by The Kitchen Sisters about the fire, their homes, the environment, their lives.


Made with support from The California Humanities and The National Endowment for the Arts.

Produced by The Kitchen Sisters (Nikki Silva & Davia Nelson) and mixed by Jim McKee in collaboration with Grace Rubin, Brandi Howell and Nathan Dalton. In collaboration with photographer Shmuel Thaler and The Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History,

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