Beyond the fire scarred rocky foreground in the Pah Rah Range, the Virginia Mountain Complex Fires rage in the distance during sunset on July 29th, 2016. Wildfires are common in Nevada’s dry desert environment due to invasive cheat grass, other grasses, sage brush, Juniper, and other desert flora; fuels for fire. The five Virginia Mountain Complex Fires were caused by a lightning storm on July 28th 2016. The fires were roughly 20 miles from each other, and about 35 miles north of Reno Nevada, where I live. One of the largest fires, the Tule Fire (the one you see here), made its way to Pyramid Lake causing the evacuation of Sutcliffe Nevada on July 30th, and temporary closure of the lake. At the same time wildfires were raging in California, and the atmosphere was already hazy from winds blowing smoke from the California wildfires over the Sierra Nevada into Northern Nevada. The setting sun was creating a golden/orange glow from smoke particles in the lower atmosphere.
I missed the local news on July 28th, so I had no idea of the fires. I was watching the 5 o’clock news on July 29th 2016, and it started with a weather report warning for a lighting storm in the Virginia Mountains area, and to avoid the area, stay inside, etc. So I immediately loaded up my gear, and headed out to the Virginia Mountains off the Pyramid Highway to do some photography during the lighting storms. Right as I came over the hill into Palamino Valley, you could see large plumes of smoke from the fires stretching the entire span of the mountain range. The sun was casting late afternoon light on the huge smoke plumes, which were mixed in with the storm clouds. It was like driving into hell! I was not sure how close in I could get to the fires safely due to its intensity from winds pushing the fires, and I wanted to avoid and not interfere with all the fire response vehicles heading down Pyramid Highway to fight the fires. I didn’t even know about the fires until I actually saw them. The picture you see here, was one of the very first captures I took on this day, I figured it was the safest area to do some photography across the highway from the Virginia Mountains, away from the fire path. After shooting around this area into twilight, I crossed the highway and went up to a ridge to get a closer view of the fire, and I shot into the night until around 10:30pm. This is the first of several images I will be posting from this night.
A little geek out tech detail…
This is a focus stack for the landscape and sky, with some additional exposure blending for the sky, and some perspective warping in the immediate foreground to line things up better. I enhanced the veiling flare in the image here, with a technique I learned a while back from a Ryan Dyar instructional tutorial, called "Light Bleed". The image was also cropped to cut out the Pyramid Highway which was directly on the middle/right side of the image; a little peeve of mine is to remove any indicators of human interference in the landscape when composing the shot, but it doesn't work all the time.
If interested in more details about the Virginia Mountain Complex Fires, including a fire map, follow the link below:
© MIKE CLASEN PHOTOGRAPHY