Dec. 15, 2017

Best of the States

AP photo team owns Southern California wildfire coverage

Late in the evening on Dec. 4, West Region photo editor Stephanie Mullen was monitoring a fire that broke out in Ventura County, about 80 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Mullen knew that if the notorious Santa Ana winds really picked up the flames could start burning homes.

She hired Northern California freelance photographer Noah Berger, an expert at shooting wildfires, and partnered him with Los Angeles-based staff photographer Jae Hong. Berger and Hong were in place as daylight broke and the fire surged into the city of Ventura, where it burned hundreds of homes. They rapidly shot and filed, allowing AP to deliver striking imagery before our competitors had even started their day.

The AP owned the coverage in those important early hours with impressive play globally.

Later that morning, Orange County-based photographer Chris Carlson worked his way through road closures to make images of horses being rescued and flames overwhelming homes in Los Angeles County. And as the week wore on, photographer Greg Bull snaked his way through roadblocks and heavy traffic to capture nighttime images of fires in San Diego County, then slept in his car and got haunting daybreak photos of the destruction.

For providing a photo package no competitor could rival, Hong, Carlson, Bull and Berger share this week’s Best of the States prize.

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April 29, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Engaging AP package: Wildfires threaten snowpack, water supply

reported for all formats and collaborated with colleagues on a richly produced enterprise package that explores an important environmental concern linked to climate change: the effect of wildfires on water supply, particularly in the U.S. West where the fires are becoming more frequent and destructive.Denver-based videojournalist Peterson focused on a female climate scientist, a relative rarity in the field, and how her work might help local water managers guide decisions amid increasing water shortages which will only get worse in years to come.With strong visuals and an engaging presentation, the package resonated with customers and readers, was used by dozens and dozens of websites and papers, and racked up some 2 million pageviews on AP’s Facebook page alone.Read more

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Aug. 20, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Climate contributing to wildfires on tropical Pacific isles

reported exclusively in all formats on climate-fueled wildfires flaring up on tropical Pacific islands from Hawaii to Micronesia, causing environmental harm from mountaintops to coral reefs.Aware of persistent wildfire problems on some of the Hawaiian Islands and Guam, Honolulu-based Jones and Jakarta, Indonesia-based Milko reported that climate change is making once-lush areas of the islands hotter, drier and more susceptible to fire. As a result, runoff from burned areas damages coral reefs, and the fires are converting critical watershed forests to grasslands that are more prone to fire in the future.While Milko reported on the situation in Guam, where the top fire official said most fires were arson, Jones traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii which was experiencing the largest wildfire in the state’s history. He shot photos and video of firefighters at work, and gained access to private Native Hawaiian homestead land where homes and vehicles were destroyed on the slopes of Mauna Kea. He spoke to residents and evacuees for a historical perspective on the drier, more volatile land, while fire officials and scientists in Honolulu explained how climate change contributes to the fires. https://aplink.news/o3nhttps://aplink.video/mny

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July 05, 2019

Best of the States

AP: Smoke from US wildfires boosting health risk for millions

After last year's deadly wildfires in California brought weeks of sooty skies to cities along the West Coast, the AP decided to take a closer look into the broader impacts of the massive smoke plumes.

Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown teamed with Denver video journalist P. Solomon Banda to produce an all-formats report on the growing public health threat from wildfire smoke. Their work grew from a body of research that points to where smoke impacts will be worst – a broad swath of the West that includes more than 300 counties with tens of millions of people.

For diligent reporting that provided a deeper look into how wildfires affect communities throughout the region, Brown and Banda earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 08, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

Dodging flames, AP team delivers extraordinary all-formats coverage of raging California wildfires

When two burning tree limbs crashed in flames on the exact spot where Marcio Sanchez had been standing just moments earlier, the shaken AP Los Angeles photographer called two colleagues to check that they both had his wife’s phone number, figuring that “if something happened to me, they could tell her.” He then plunged back to work, capturing vivid images of the furious wildfires tearing across swaths of California.

That incident captured the commitment of AP journalists during a frenetic week documenting the wind-whipped wildfires and accompanying blackouts. Sanchez was joined in the riveting coverage by photographers Noah Berger and Greg Bull, reporters Janie Har and Don Thompson, and more than a dozen others on the ground and in AP bureaus.

The engrossing, all-formats coverage was among the most popular on AP all week.

For their extraordinary work during a hectic and dangerous week, Sanchez, Berger, Bull, Thompson and Har share AP’s Best of the Week.  

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Aug. 23, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Fighting fire with fire: Prescribed burns can prevent catastrophic wildfires

for an all-formats look at prescribed burns, one of the most controversial efforts to head off wildfires. After the devastating California wildfires of the last two years, Melley was assigned to find out how prescribed burns, considered one of the more effective ways to stop or slow fires, were being used to clear brush and other fuel. Melley eventually joined a burn in King’s Canyon National Park where he shot photos and video for a story that outlined the firefighting technique and the issues around it. His cross-format package received wide play in California and the West.https://bit.ly/33qc5ENhttps://bit.ly/33OjzBxhttps://bit.ly/2KNVIJm

Oct. 20, 2017

Best of the States

AP shines with cross format coverage of deadliest wildfires in California history

California is used to devastating wildfires but the firestorm that swept through wine country north of San Francisco was unlike any other. The devastation was staggering – at least 42 killed and more than 5,700 homes and other structures burned to the ground.

The series of fires broke out nearly simultaneously late at night and quickly stretched across 100 miles. AP quickly mobilized staffers throughout California and beyond.

San Francisco reporter Ellen Knickmeyer, concerned her Napa County home could fall victim to the flames (it did not, fortunately), never stopped reporting. Her experience living with the flames while reporting on them was turned into a compelling first-person narrative.

Every staffer in the field contributed in multiple formats. Phoenix-based videojournalist Brian Skoloff, and photographers Jae Hong (Los Angeles) and Marcio Sanchez (San Francisco) put themselves in harm’s way to ensure AP could show the fires and their heart-wrenching impact on people and property. Meanwhile, Sacramento photographer Rich Pedroncelli shot stills and video in Napa Valley where two sons returned to the home where their parents – 100-year-old Charles Rippey, and his wife, Sara, 98 – were killed.

For their work in the initial days documenting how the flames devastated people and property, Knickmeyer, Skoloff, Sanchez, Hong and Pedroncelli win this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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Aug. 28, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

California wildfire footage tops the field on a heavy news week

delivered impressive video of the raging California wildfires, grabbing AP’s top spots for video downloads – on a week when the Democratic convention was expected to dominate news cycles. Ranen and Chea captured powerful live shots, including homes ablaze with no firefighters in sight, as well as character-driven pieces about those who had evacuated and some who lost their homes. Fluty produced multiple video edits, spending hours scouring affiliate footage for the best shots, merged with AP’s own footage for compelling pieces that were heavily used by clients.https://bit.ly/3jj3Ilohttps://bit.ly/32zExEvhttps://bit.ly/2D33aR4https://bit.ly/34FLVk8https://bit.ly/3b5xAi4

Wildfires Video

Nov. 16, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

Cataclysmic fires cap off week of momentous and devastating news in California

California’s news staff still was in the midst of reporting the tragic night-spot shooting in Thousand Oaks when news reached the AP that a wildfire in Northern California was spreading quickly, sending thousands fleeing.

Bay Area freelance photographer Noah Berger, as good a fire chaser as there is anywhere, tipped the office off that the Northern California fire looked explosive. By 11 a.m. Sacramento reporter Don Thompson was hitting the road, and a first AP NewsAlert moved saying people fleeing for their lives had abandoned vehicles as the fire swept in.

AP’s all-formats coverage went into high gear, with staffers pouring in from the region. In addition to Thompson, who stayed at the scene with fire crews for several days straight, Portland, Ore., all-formats reporter Gilly Flaccus arrived, producing unmatched interviews in text and video of survivors and of crews searching for the remains of those killed. San Francisco reporter Paul Elias gathered information on the dramatic rescues and chaotic evacuation, while Las Vegas photographer John Locher and Denver videographer Peter Banda provided gripping visuals from the scene.

AP was first to report thousands of homes destroyed, first to report a named victim, and we were alone in accompanying a search and recovery crew in all formats as they went to a victim’s home and found her remains.

The coverage was nuanced and emotional. California News Editor Frank Baker says there was no one on the California staff who didn’t contribute, working unrelentingly from last week’s elections and mass shooting straight into the wildfire.

For outstanding work, bolstered and supported by California’s all-formats reporting staff and editors, Thompson, Flaccus, Elias, Berger, Locher and Banda share this AP's Best of the Week.

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Sept. 04, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Despite reports to the contrary, AP finds redwoods still standing

broke the news that the massive and renowned old-growth redwood trees at Big Basin Redwoods State Park had largely survived the region’s devastating wildfires. After other media reported that the ancient trees were “doomed” and had been “wiped out,” Mendoza and Sanchez hiked several smoky miles over waist-high fallen trees to find that the old-growth trees in the park – including the iconic Father and Mother of the Forest – were most definitely standing and had not burned. Even the signs marking the trees were unscathed.The positive news resonated with readers as far away as Iran and India, generating heavy engagement. https://bit.ly/31RxYOh

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Aug. 03, 2018

Best of the States

Aggressive photo coverage, sharp reporting on devastating California wildfire

San Francisco-based freelance photographer Noah Berger is one of the foremost wildfire photographers in California.

His experience helped put him in the right place to shoot stunning images as the Carr Fire swept into Redding and threatened to devour much of the Northern California city of 92,000. It also made AP the first major news outlet to have boots on the ground in the city, a competitive advantage that produced details other didn’t have, and enabled managers to quickly get Sacramento reporter Jonathan J. Cooper headed to the scene.

Berger described the Carr Fire as one of the most intense fire fights he has ever witnessed. His dramatic images put the AP ahead of key competitors by more than a day.

Cooper's reporting included a key measurement of a wildfire’s destructive force: the number of homes lost. When authorities kept saying 65 structures had been destroyed, Cooper went back to two neighborhoods he had visited and counted all the homes burned to the ground. He found 60 in one and 66 in the other. AP’s figure, and the context that the number would ultimately be much higher, quickly became the headline on the story.

A wildfire is among the toughest assignments for any photographer but Berger gave the AP a significant competitive advantage. Cooper’s savvy gave AP a figure others didn’t have. For their work, they share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Nov. 23, 2018

Best of the States

Requiem for Paradise: Remembering the sweet life of a town wiped out by wildfire

It’s not often you have to write an obituary for a town. Yet that’s what Martha Mendoza and Jocelyn Gecker did, with Gillian Flaccus producing a compelling video component. Their tribute to Paradise, California – leveled by a devastating wildfire that killed so many residents – painted a picture of all that was lost. Paradise was a gold prospector’s town, then a lumber town, and until two weeks ago was the home of 27,000 people “who lived and loved here; they built homes and businesses, schools and houses of worship, parks and museums that proudly honored Paradise's place in American history.”

Mendoza worked from the field, in the ashes of the town, with Gecker in San Francisco tracking down leads, helping to write the finished piece and finding photographs to illustrate “the town’s history and spirit.” Their nuanced reporting, along with that of many colleagues, drew forth tales of town holidays, and residents ruminating whether those staples of small-town America would continue.

The accompanying video by Gillian Flaccus, recorded during a ride-along with a long-time resident, complemented the text piece by showing street after street of utter devastation over the man’s narration.

Paradise is gone, and until it rebuilds in some fashion, Mendoza, Gecker and Flaccus have given the world the definitive piece on what it represented. For their deft depiction of the town behind the headlines, the trio wins AP's Best of the States.

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Feb. 22, 2019

Best of the States

Victims of the Paradise wildfire; stunning portraits of how they lived and died

The wildfire that consumed Paradise, California, claimed 85 lives while virtually burning the town off the map. But beyond those facts lay a rich narrative of the individuals who perished while calling Paradise home.

AP San Francisco reporters Janie Har and Jocelyn Gecker set out to tell the stories of the victims of the deadly Paradise fire far more comprehensively than was possible in the immediate aftermath: Who were they? Where and when did they die? Did they even have a chance to flee?

To paint a picture of how the tragedy unfolded, the pair spent months tracking down family members – many of whom were wary – to talk about their loved ones, assuring them that AP’s coverage would be more than a recitation of the grim facts. Interviews with California fire officials, a newly available simulation of the fire’s movement on the fateful morning and public records requests enabled AP to produce an interactive graphic giving the exact locations where people died and their approximate times of death.

The result was a riveting package that coupled intimate portraits of the victims with the circumstances of their death. Most never had a chance to flee their homes as the fast-moving fire barreled through.

The moving package was well-received by members throughout California and from coast-to-coast.

For carrying the Paradise story forward with enterprising, sensitive work that focused on the victims’ narratives, Har and Gecker share this week’s Best of the States award.

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Aug. 28, 2020

Best of the Week — First Winner

Viral photo captures mood, fears, threats in pandemic-dominated 2020

For many in the U.S. and around the world, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years in recent memory – and a single wildfire photo by freelance photographer Noah Berger, on assignment for the AP, captured the danger, fear and uncertainty wrought by the pandemic. 

The ironic image of a sign, surrounded by flames while urging safety, was widely interpreted as a pointed commentary on 2020. The photo went viral and was among AP’s most downloaded images of the month.

And that was just one of many photos and videos by Berger that helped put the AP ahead of the competition in recent coverage of fires in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

For his courageous and committed work, and a remarkable photo that frames much of 2020 in the context of a raging wildfire, Noah Berger wins AP’s Best of the Week award. 

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May 03, 2019

Best of the States

‘Destined to Burn’: AP, media organizations join forces to expose California wildfire risks

A groundbreaking collaboration among California newspapers and The Associated Press started with a tweet.

Northern California News Editor Juliet Williams saw on Twitter that the editor of The Sacramento Bee, a McClatchy paper, was driving to meet with the editor of the Chico Enterprise-Record, a MediaNews paper, to talk about wildfire coverage. Williams reached out, offered the AP’s help, and a partnership was born, with the goal of illuminating problems and pointing to potential solutions to California’s increasingly deadly wildfires.

The results: nearly a dozen stories, including an analysis of data by McClatchy and AP Los Angeles-based data journalist Angeliki Kastanis revealing that more than 350,000 Californians live in towns and cities almost entirely within zones of very high wildfire risk. An analysis also found that a 2008 building code for California’s fire-prone regions can make the difference in whether homes burn or not, but there’s little retrofitting of older homes.

The partnership’s next installment was focused on evacuation planning, revealing that many communities wouldn’t share the information or didn’t have an adequate plan, or any plan at all. Data analysis by USA TODAY Network-California showed many communities had too few roads to get everyone out.

We heavily publicized the package and play was impressive, with hundreds of downloads of the first two installments. Many outlets used the data to report their own stories about local fire risks. And this isn’t the end of the partnership: The next phase will focus on legislative action on wildfire coverage.

When AP engages in collaborations like these we become more than just a content provider to our customers; we’re helping them produce high-impact local coverage that wouldn’t exist otherwise. In this case, the “Destined to Burn” partnership was managed at every level by West Deputy Director of Newsgathering Anna Jo Bratton, who worked for six months with people throughout the AP and the collaborators to make the partnership a success.

For putting the AP at the center of an important collaboration, driving important journalism in a state ravaged by wildfires, and forging a stronger relationship with members, Williams, Kastanis and Bratton win this AP’s Best of the States.

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Jan. 07, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Resourceful AP team dominates all-formats coverage of Colorado inferno

When a winter grassland fire exploded along Colorado’s Front Range two days before New Year’s, destroying nearly 1,000 homes and forcing tens of thousands to flee, AP staffers in all formats rushed to document what is likely the state’s most destructive fire ever.

The coverage included first video and photos of the massive flames on Day One, giving AP a quick competitive edge from the start. AP stayed ahead in the days that followed with staffers trekking for miles into the burn area, quickly delivering text, video and photos as residents returned to the remains of their homes. The reporting also placed the blaze in the larger context of global warming in the American West.

During a busy news week, the initial fire coverage was among AP’s top stories.

For compelling all-formats content from this rare, horrific winter fire, the team of Eugene Garcia, Dave Zelio, Thomas Peipert, Colleen Slevin, Jim Anderson, Martha Bellisle, Brittany Peterson, Patty Nieberg, David Zalubowski and Jack Dempsey is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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Dec. 07, 2018

Best of the States

Only on AP: Many of those ‘missing’ after wildfire are just fine

As the AP reported on the chaos and confusion surrounding the ever-changing list of missing people in the wake of California wildfire that killed at least 85 people, our reporters set out to try to track down more of those people and to show that they were findable, even though they continued to appear on the list of missing, and to show that hundreds were likely not really missing at all.

Dixie Singh, No. 158 on the list, was surprised to get a call from the AP, saying she was “very much alive,” and all her friends and family knew it. San Francisco reporter Jocelyn Gecker tracked her down through a public records search by AP News and Information Center researcher Jennifer Farrar.

Meanwhile, Sacramento correspondent Kathleen Ronayne and Washington, D.C., reporter Juliet Linderman, who was in town for the week assisting on fire coverage, tracked down other stories of people who were findable – just not by the sheriff’s department.

The team’s research and reporting laid out how easy it was to find some of the people and highlighted lapses in the sheriff’s record-keeping.

For their collaborative exclusive on a key lingering aspect of the deadly Camp Fire, the team of Gecker, Ronayne, Linderman and Farrar wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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June 11, 2021

Best of the States

Effects of California drought documented in compelling all-formats content and presentation

With California sinking deeper into drought as wildfire season approaches, AP set out to show the drought’s impact on vulnerable areas — beyond the orange glow of burning homes. Top freelance photographers Noah Berger and Josh Edelson teamed up with reporter Adam Beam, focusing on the six reservoirs with the lowest water levels. 

Both photographers are trained and equipped with drones; they delivered stunning visuals, including boat docks beached on dry land, charred hillside homes overlooking a lake reduced to puddle-like status and boat launches that don’t even reach the water’s edge. Meanwhile, Beam conducted interviews and visited the massive Lake Oroville reservoir, where the deadliest U.S. wildfire in a century raged in 2018. 

The package was enhanced by digital storyteller Samantha Shotzbarger, who created a arresting presentation giving readers an immersive view of the evaporating reservoirs.   

For a revealing and forbidding look at the effects of California’s drought, the team of Berger, Edelson, Beam and Shotzbarger earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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