Woolsey Fire Memory Project Makes First Round of Materials Digitally Available

Smoke billows over hills, Contributed and photographed by Sarah Dillion

A year has passed since the Woolsey Fire blazed through the canyons and hillsides of Malibu. Its destruction could be felt both physically and emotionally, and the community has since come together to process and heal collectively. Shared memories of this disaster have been formally gathered and preserved in the Woolsey Fire Memory Project, hosted by Pepperdine Libraries. Earlier this week, many of these materials became publicly accessible with the first launch of the Woolsey Fire Memory Project’s digital collection.

The Carlsen family in the smoke, Contributed by George Carlsen, Photographed by Steve Davis

Considering how they could help in the wake of the fire, Pepperdine’s librarians conceived a digital collection of materials related to the Woolsey Fire with the goals of continuing to preserve the histories of Malibu and Pepperdine while offering a means for the community to unite in recovery. Librarians began accumulating materials for the Project earlier this year, with submissions ranging from photos and videos to firsthand written and oral accounts. Over the summer, Pepperdine Libraries even hosted an event to collect materials and offer interviews with community members in person. To date, the Project has amassed over four-hundred submissions from forty-two individuals.

Fire beyond Elkins Auditorium, Contributed and photographed by Nicole Macdonald

The digital collection is organized by time, down to the exact second, which makes the collection read as a visual timeline. It reveals the progression of the fire from billowing smoke to encroaching flames in nearly real-time. As the fire runs its course, additional photos show Pepperdine students wearing masks and huddling in Payson Library as they shelter in place, firefighting helicopters scooping up water from Alumni Park, and verses from the Bible offering comfort during a time of uncertainty. The scope of the collection is broad and reflects both factual details and memories of particular importance to the community.

This is not the final version of the Woolsey Fire Memory Project’s digital collection. In a future release, materials will also be mapped using GPS coordinates for a geographic visualization of the fire. And, the collection will continue to be updated as more materials are received. Until then, on this first anniversary of the Woolsey Fire, spend some time scrolling through the collection. Well past the imposing images of smoke and flames are pictures of rolling green hills that, though marked with scars and punctuated with charred branches, are symbolic of the community’s resilience amidst tragedy.

View of Western Malibu hills and Pacific Ocean, Contributed and photographed by Ty De Long

The Malibu Community Woolsey Fire Memory Project is still accepting submissions. If you wish to contribute, follow this link to submit your photos, videos, and written accounts, or to express your interest in giving an interview about your experience. If you need help with your submission, please contact Josias Bartram at josias.bartram@pepperdine.edu.

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Woolsey Fire Memory Project Makes First Round of Materials Digitally Available