These stories match individual burned tree paintings from the Burnscape Series written by Lorena Williams, (c) 2018. 

They vary from fictional, poetic, and non-fictional ekphrastic responses to the paintings.


#4 Mountaineer Creek Char
Year Painted: 2013
Likely Species: Unknown
Location 47.5366857135°  -120.8136076969°
Elevation: 3,400 feet
Place Name: Washington Cascades
Fire: Icicle Creek Fire, 2001

After driving my ski across yet another hidden rock, I stop to reconsider my outing. It is late spring in a glacial valley high in the Cascades, burned a decade earlier and slow to recover with characteristically short alpine summers. Wind and percolating snowmelt tickle my eardrums as my breath calms. Typically a landscape of trembling limbs and blinding snow, the area’s waterways bear names like “Alpine Lakes,” “Icicle Creek” and “Frosty Creek.” But today the snowpack, which I expected to find thick and soft under my skis, proves patchy.

Disappointment fades when I become distracted by sparkling iridescence near my right boot. It is another piece of burned wood in yet another burned forest, but I am struck by the uniformity in the char pattern and the dazzling colors brought out by this spring day. Kneeling, my ungloved hand reaching for the familiar sensation of puffed carbon, I pause. I notice that the soil around the log is raised from recent frost heave. It is aerated, damp and dark—a sandy loam rich with oak leaves and pine needles. Bending close, I can hear the soil now, sucking and shifting as tender roots, rhizomes, and earthworms flex and drive deeper into the breathing earth. It won’t be long before the seeds of a new forest crack open and unfurl needled tufts to begin their reclamation.


#5 Okanagan Mountain Hollow
Year Painted: 2013

Likely Species: Unknown
Location: 49.800456°, -119.312638°
Elevation: ~3,000 feet
Place Name: Myra Canyon, Kettle
Mountain Railroad Trail, British Columbia
Fire: Okanagan Mountain Park Fire, 2003

When a precise electrical charge cracked to life somewhere in the clouds above Okanagan Mountain Provincial Park, lightning slipped down a single tree to meet its polarity. Limbs exploded into the air, carrying flames to the dry brush around it. At first, the fire was more of a curiosity than a threat, but in the days that followed, British Columbia’s most devastating urban interface fire to date sent 33,000 people from their homes—239 of which eventually burned. The cries for help fell on the ears of the Canadian Forces who were already dealing with 800 other fires burning in BC. Operation Peregrine eventually mobilized 2,200 Canadian Forces to aid the overwhelmed provincial fire service, but no human actions could counter the firestorms of 2003.

It was human actions, however, that contributed to this record-breaking fire season. Wildfire in Canada, as in the US, had for a century been treated as an enemy. Historically, low intensity fires came in regular intervals, but these were suppressed throughout the 20th century. In a drought year, like 2003, the heavy fuel loads that had accumulated became the substance of catastrophe when lightning inevitably came.

Almost fifteen years later, we have nearly forgotten what the mountains and neighborhoods looked like before the fire. Green patches of young growth brighten in spring, while fingers of mature trees spared by the fire stretch down from the hills above the town of Kelowna. From Lake Okanagan, a boater might look up to ponder the thousands of standing dead firs—the starkest reminders of the terrifying event—but the associated painful memories fade more each year. In many places, the snags have weakened and blown down, soon to be grown over by their successors. Likewise, neighborhoods have been rebuilt over scorched rubble. Smooth sidewalks lead to verdant lawns and colorful homes. Inside are people who, despite all the years that have passed, know better than to forget the Okanagan Mountain Fire’s lessons, buried beneath their very foundations.


#6 The Topography of Fire
Year Painted: 2013

Likely Species: Ponderosa Pine, White or Douglas Fir
Location 37.321238°, -112.988786°
Elevation: 7,870 feet
Place Name: Little Siberia, Zion National Park
Fire: Dakota Hill Complex, 2007

All afternoon the fire crew watched bloated, white thunderheads building high and blowing swiftly across Zion’s plateaus. At dark, they set up a row of folding camp chairs outside the barracks to watch lightning pound the northern horizon. Black, heavy clouds pressed down on the monoliths. As the distant rumble of thunder grew closer and louder the crew grinned to each other, exhilarated. The three of them sipped beer and chatted, eyes flashing white from lightning that lit up distant canyons.

The trio fell silent as the sky darkened, the unabating thunder punctuated by the occasional beer can hissing to life. The usual sounds of the evening—chirping crickets, the flicker of bats overhead—were quieted. There was a chill to the eerily motionless July air, which felt charged with electricity. The first brush of wind almost went unnoticed, but it was followed promptly by a second, stronger one. One firefighter let out a nervous and excited laugh. Another finished her beer. An instant later, the lofty sound of wind in the pines overhead stirred them to attention.

“Oh yeah,” the youngest crewmember rubbed his hands together like a plotting maniac. “Here it comes.”

The breeze developed into frigid gusts of wind that smelled of damp earth. Anticipating the storm’s arrival, the group moved the chairs against the barracks where they couldn’t blow away then retreated inside to sleep. Tomorrow was sure to be busy.


#16: Stehekin Sentinel
Year Painted: 2014

Likely Species: Ponderosa Pine
Location: 48.354695° -120.694141°
Elevation: ~3,000 feet
Place Name: Rainbow Creek Trail,
North Cascades National Park
Fire: Rainbow Bridge Fire, 2010

sentinel| ˈsent(ə)nəl |
noun a soldier or guard whose job is to stand and keep watch.

adjectivebeing an individual or part of a population potentially
susceptible to an infection or infestation that is being monitored
for the appearance or recurrence of the causative pathogen or

This painting is a love letter to the Stehekin Sentinels.
In it reflect the purplesof lupine
sproutedyears after the fire,
the fire also a love letter—a bright burst
of passion. Wasn’t it a love letter lit

in the forest which started this wildfire?

That’s the rumor, you know.

What is it about the woods that inspire ardor?
We come here with loved ones to reunite.
We come here alone in exuberance.
It is where our imaginations are most awake,
our spirits unbound, and not surprisingly
it is where we come to heal.

We have all burned
love letters in the woods

The trees whisper a soothing reply.
But when our zeal grows reckless,
the trees become the love letters we burn—
the thousand matchsticksof
a doghair thicket sounding fury
into the night sky.

These modern forests are, after all,
the result of a misunderstood relationship
resulting in sentinels such as this one:
a susceptible tree infested with bark beetles,
defenseless against subsequent fires. Unlike
us humans, however, forests seem ever-willing
to forgive us our wrongs,

to unearth gold and violet
out of blackness


#20 What Remains
Year Painted: 2012
Likely Species: Ponderosa or Alpine Fir
Location: 47.441693, -121.083296
Elevation: 6,000’
Place Name: Davis Peak, central Cascades
Fire: Pollalie Fire, 2006

What remains for news cameras is woodsmoke, ashpits so deep firefighters disappear to their waists, soot so gritty it clogs one’s pores to where no amount of scrubbing can remove it. Atop the hydrophobic ash layer rest yellowed pine needles that fell after the fire cooled. Also, frogs bloated and crispy, squirrels scorched as though on a spit for far too long—all the animals who cannot outrun the flames.

A trained firefighter sees much more than these surface observations. For experts, what remains is often enough to determine the fire’s point of origin, the factors of ignition, and the fire patterns that ensued.

Next time you hike into a fresh burn, start by looking at rocks. The side exposed to flames may show evidence of sootingor staining. In a more intense fire, this same side of the rock is pitted with small craters where the heat has spalled, or exfoliated, weak fragments. While you’re looking down, notice the white ash, where materials burned hottest and combusted more completely. In cooler, less intense sections of the fire, you may notice grass stalks that have been burned completely off at the base and have fallen (a tiny timberrrr!) toward the advancing flames.

At waist- or possibly eye-level, notice any remaining leaves on oak or chaparral—they curl inwards and always towards the advancing heat. Look closer at the plant now, at its smaller branches left partially burned. On the lee side, where low-intensity flames burned underneath, twig ends may be cupped in a concave shape. On the contrary, twig tips exposed to direct, oncoming flames will be rounded and burned off. 

Take a breath and take in the larger scene. Fire moves in micro patterns, changing inch by inch, but it also moves on a macro scale. Do the trees around you all show black char on one side but not the other? The char side was exposed to the advancing front while the back was protected. Likewise, you might see an angle of char in the tree tops where some foliage remains. Fire climbs the tree on the windward side and bursts out the top on the lee side, leaving a diagonal wedge of untouched foliage. (The low end of the angle of char will coincide with the charred side of the tree.)

It's time to climb into your helicopter and tell me what you notice about the fire’s shape. Is it long and skinny—a U-shape? Well then, it’s likely wind driven. Is it more of a V-shape, moving from the base of a slope to the top? I’m willing to bet that the bottom of the V is where you’ll find the point of origin.

What remains after fire is a thousand clues small as a blade of grass that speak to those who know what to listen for.


(c) Lorena Williams 2018




As the climate warms, forest fires are becoming more frequent and catastrophic in the western United States. My deep anxiety with the impacts of climate change on wilderness are emerging in this series. Burned-over areas of forest are riveting. Unfamiliar tree forms are newly exposed. Formerly hidden terrain features become visible. Normal greens, blues and browns are transformed. All the worst fires of the last fifty years have occured in the last five years.

Please contact me if you are interested in learning more about any of my images. All represent original paintings, not reproductions. I have many more paintings than are shown on this site. And, since I frequently work in series, there may be additional views of the subjects shown here.