A Fire Story Illustrates the Human Cost of the California Wildfires

All illustrations by Brian Fies.
All illustrations by Brian Fies.

This month, wildfires tore through Northern California. As of the most recent estimates, they have killed 42 people and destroyed 8,400 structures, including many privates residences. In A Fire Story, Brian Fies uses a diary comic to tell the story of just one of those homes: his.


“Making comics seems to be how I deal with trauma,” Fies told io9. Fies has been a comic artist for many years: one of his earliest web works, Mom’s Cancer, won an Eisner Award. Earlier this month, his Sonoma County home was burned down as the fires made their way south from Calistoga. “As I wrote in one of my blog posts introducing A Fire Story, it’s both a feature and a bug of my personality. I’ve been a newspaper reporter and a freelance writer, and I think of this story as first-person graphic journalism.”

Illustration for article titled iA Fire Story /iIllustrates the Human Cost of the California Wildfires

The comic, which Fies published in two chunks on his personal blog, details the tumult of evacuation and the tragedy of losing your home, your possessions, your sense of place. It’s an effective snapshot of a broad disaster.

“Mine was just one story out of thousands in this disaster, and those other people’s stories are harrowing and gripping and interesting even if they don’t have the ability or desire to turn them into a webcomic,” Fies told io9. “I know dozens of people who barely escaped with their lives and are facing much greater hardships than my wife and me. The California firestorm is about how many acres were burned, but it’s also about thousands of confused and frightened victims who lost their whole live’s histories last week.”

At present, Fies and his family are working on figuring out what comes next. It’s a difficult process in the face of the most devastating fires in recorded California history. “We need to become instant experts on FEMA and reconstruction loans while at the same time we’ll soon be sifting through the ashes of our house for literally the scraps of our old lives,” Fries said.

You can read the full comic on Brian Fies’s blog here. If you want to help with the long recovery ahead in California, GoFundMe has a list of verified charities and fundraising campaigns here.


A previous version of this story mistakenly put the home in Napa County, where the fires started, rather than Sonoma County. We regret the error.

io9 Weekend Editor. Videogame writer at other places. Queer nerd girl.

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If you want to help him the artist, buy copies of his two books — Mom’s Cancer and Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow. Last I checked, there were still a few left over on Amazon.