Sand Fire, 2016

On Assignment

Stuart at the Sand Fire in Little Tujunga Canyon in the Angeles National Forest, July 2016

Meet Stuart Palley, Founder:

Hi! Thanks for reading my site and staying interested in wildfires, climate change, and what it means for us in the American West and beyond. By day I’m a photographer, writer, and creator based in Southern California that specializes in environmental, art, editorial, and commercial/corporate subjects and as a social media marketing consultant for medium-sized businesses. During the summer and nights I photograph wildfires across California, although its increasingly becoming my main focus!

I started photographing wildfires in summer of 2012 when I was an intern at the Orange County Register in Orange County, CA. The TLDR is I started photographing fires as the drought in CA worsened and I moved home from grad school, and I started sticking around at night, talking to firefighters, and gradually immersing myself in the world of wildland fire. The first wildfire I photographed at night was the Powerhouse Fire in Los Angeles County in early June, 2013. I’d had brushes with wildfires before then, namely photographing the aftermath of the 2007 Santiago Fire for my then-college newspaper, with memories of the 1993 Laguna Canyon Fire burning a few hills over lingering somewhere in the backburner of my mind. 

Fast forward six fire seasons later and now I’m a contractor for the US Forest Service, photographing wildland fires for the federal government as a single resource officially assigned to wildland fire incidents. I also work as a freelance photographer for various national newspapers, magazines, and other publications in a similar role. Additionally, I have a book called Terra Flamma: Wildfires at Night due out in September 2018 by Schiffer Publishing. You can preorder it HERE on my site. 

The project has been featured in dozens of media outlets across the globe and was recognized as a Finalist in the Environmental Vision category of the prestigious Pictures of the Year International Photography competition in 2016. The project also was received awards in 2015 and 2018. Most recently my work from the project was published as part of an article on electronic surveillance entitled "We Are Watching You" In the February 2018 issue of National Geographic Magazine and will be featured as a solo exhibit on Saturday, September 2ndin downtown Santa Ana at the monthly art walk. Details HERE

Experience and Training:

I have formal wildland fire training, having attended the Arizona Wildland Fire and Incident Management Academy in 2016, and have also trained as an AD on the Cleveland National Forest. I have been arduous duty pack tested, and aim to take the pack test and refresher each to stay updated. I own all my own PPE, including everything up to NIFC/NFPA standards, including New Generation Fire Shelter, 8-inch leather boots, helmet, goggles, radio, hydration pack, Nomex brush shirt and pants, and the requisite support equipment. 

I’ve been to almost 100 wildfires across California and beyond, including large incidents such as the Rim, Thomas, Lake, Rough, Rocky, and Jerusalem Fires, and the 2017 Wine Country Fire Siege. I’ve been fortunate to have the fire community take me in and teach me about fire behavior, fire weather, fire history, and best practices on the fireline relating to professionalism, safety, LCES, and anything and everything revolving around wildland fire. I am 100% a wildfire nerd and love reading books on fire history, forest management policy, and climate. I consider myself a lifelong student of fire and there’s always more to learn!

I’ve rolled on overnight firing operations with fire crews, learning the most when sitting as a passenger in a pickup truck or walking along a fireline with the men and women fighting fire. They’ve been kind enough to share their wealth of experience to help me better document fires. I also am big on PT to stay in shape to keep up with crews hiking, subscribing to the motto of “train like your life depends on it” because it does. 

I’m proud to take this experience and share it with the general public, making my services and experience available to organizations I choose to partner with and work with. During the summers I’m often on the road at fires, so if I take a while to respond, please bear with me :-).

Support Stuart:

I launched this site in July 2018 to further share my work on wildfires, and to create a space where I can share a variety of content beyond still photography, including writing more, interactive maps, videos, and analysis. I also have a web store that sells fine-art prints of my wildfire work. Sales from these prints go directly back into the project and supporting my ongoing work.As a freelancer I buy all my own PPE, camera gear, pay my own health insurance, etc. I get no guaranteed paycheck and any support you may give sustains this project. If you’ve enjoyed my work, your support is much appreciated! You can also make a donation using the buttons on the site, even $1.00 makes a difference!




If you’d like to read more nuanced pieces and interviews about my work to get a feel for the Terra Flamma Project, check out these links and interviews, and the behind the scenes video below. 


Thanks and be safe out there!


- SP