“The day of the fire [Friday, Nov. 18], I woke up around 5 that morning,” Anicia Beckwith said. “I had a job that I had that day, so I had my equipment with me. All my equipment was charged—my batteries were ready, my lighting was good, my cargo van was full of my photo stuff. I turned on the news, and there was a fire. I submit photos to the local news stations, Channel 8, Channel 4, and so I decided I’d go out and shoot whatever I found. And lo and behold, I wandered down to Skyline [Drive]. That was before any police officers had roped it off, and I went down Skyline and ran smack dab into the gully that was on fire.”
Beckwith has been a professional photographer for about three years. She’s 34, a University of Nevada, Reno grad, and owner of Pixella Photography and Media. Even a week after the event, she’s still breathless in her description and awestruck at nature’s fury and humankind’s ability to rise above it. Pushed by winds clocked at up to 70 mph, the 2,000-acre Caughlin Fire destroyed 30 homes and claimed one man’s life.
“I got out of my car, grabbed my camera and just started walking,” Beckwith said. “The wind was ferocious. Ferocious. The first place I got out was Horseman’s Park. By the time I had made it through the park with my gear, my lens hood had blown off. I went chasing that but was struggling with the wind and the ash blowing around. So I followed my lens hood, and by the time I’d gotten to a place where I thought it was trapped on a fence, I literally watched the fire jump from the gully onto the roof of a house. And within three minutes, that house was engulfed because it was surrounded by juniper bushes.
“It was so unfortunate and brutal. Of course, I had the camera, so I started snapping. And I watched that house literally go up in flames. I went back around the gully, close to the park, and ran down Pioneer [Drive] where the house was, and it literally caught the second house on fire. That’s why you see all the pictures of the firemen driving the engines to the fire hydrant, back and forth, back and forth, and they’re fighting the wind, which was just incredible, not only the debris from branches and tree, but it’s the ash and the air burns your lungs and your eyes.
“I got a lot of the pictures of the firemen going back and forth trying to save that house. By the time they had got the water hooked up and onto the house, the roof had actually incinerated, and the wind had picked it up, and the wind blew part of the roof across the street. So a house across the street on Pioneer had caught on fire. It was incredible. By about that time, when the house across the street had caught on fire, was when—you sit there as a photographer, and you think, ‘This is Armageddon.’”