Lost & Found: The CZU Lightning Complex Fire Project

Share your story and be a part of Santa Cruz County's historical archive detailing the impact of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

Frederick Hihn’s first-hand account of the 1906 Earthquake. Josephine Clifford McCracken’s harrowing personal narrative of the 1899 fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains. George Lee’s haunting photographs of the 1955 Flood. Over 100 audio interviews conducted in downtown Santa Cruz following the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. These documents, all in the MAH's Collection, have allowed Santa Cruz County historians and educators to more deeply understand and learn from the natural disasters that have impacted the history of our community.

In the summer of 2020 the CZU Lightning Complex Fire burned more than 80,000 acres, led to the evacuation of more than 60,000 people and the destruction of over 900 homes. Award-winning Santa Cruz Sentinel photojournalist, Shmuel Thaler, and NPR radio producer and former history curator, Nikki Silva, have teamed up with the MAH to begin documenting some of the personal stories of people who have lost their homes in the fire.

Together with the MAH, Shmuel and Nikki are asking folks to bring in objects and stories salvaged from the ashes of their homes to the museum (705 Front Street) beginning October 3rd, 2020. There, Shmuel will photograph you and the objects you bring and Nikki will interview you about your experience. If you want to share your story please contact Marla Novo, our Director of Exhibitions & Programs, at marla@santacruzmah.org.

In the News

"How do you tell the story of something so big? Of a fire that burned close to 90,000 acres, destroyed close to 9,000 buildings? If you are Shmuel Thaler and Nikki Silva, you start small. As in, a single object."

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"Survivors of the CZU August Lightning Complex fire have been sifting through the ashes, finding artifacts in the ruins of their lost homes. Now those objects are helping to unlock their stories of hope and grief as part of a unique visual and oral history."

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Shmuel Thaler has been up close and personal documenting the fire from its start August 16th, 2020. His photographs of people, the devastation, and the details that remain in the fires wake have taken people to the heart of the disaster and our community.

Impacted by all that he has experienced, Shmuel came up with the idea of Lost and Found. “I want to take photos of the beloved objects people salvage from the ashes of their homes destroyed by the fires and have the stories behind them collected.”

Nikki Silva 1 Nikki Silva 1

Nikki Silva, who documented the experiences of people after the 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake, is interested in gathering the stories behind the objects and the stories about the people, the disaster, and the history these objects elicit.

One of the MAH's first curators, she is a dedicated historian and exhibition consultant who specializes in regional history. She is one half of the Peabody Award-winning public radio team, the Kitchen Sisters. Alongside Davia Nelson, The Kitchen Sisters have produced over 200 stories for public broadcast on NPR chronicling hidden bits of history and subjects who have shaped our diverse cultural landscape.

Upcoming Exhibition

Cover Photo by Shmuel Thaler

September 8th, 2020 – Santa Cruz, CA

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