Bestselling Author Obi Kaufmann Seeks to Shift Our Understanding of California’s Fires

In this artful meditation, the beloved painter and eco-philosopher reassesses wildfire as a force for regeneration, rather than destruction.


BERKELEY, CALIF. — There may be no greater representation of California’s ecological crisis than its fires. In recent years, they have become larger and deadlier than ever before, forcing us to reckon with how we have failed the land and the incredible cost of that negligence. Obi Kaufmann’s lushly illustrated new book, The State of Fire: Why California Burns (on sale September 17, 2024), explores how we got here and how we may get out.

The story of California fires is surprising and ancient. Fire has always played a vital role in our ecosystem—it fertilizes the soil, creates easier hunting grounds for certain animals, and gives space for plants to root. In short: life flourishes after fires. But the fires of today are different. Centuries of logging, a lack of controlled burns, and the spread of invasive plant species has given rise to the gigafire and its corollary problems: massive smoke covers, erosion, mass death events in animal populations.

In this new book, Obi Kaufmann delves into the history, science, and future of fire ecology. With Kaufmann’s signature artistry and deep research this book looks at some of the most devastating fires of modern history and also the many ways that our ecosystem benefits from fire. It’s an ultimately hopeful book. One that points to the many ways that we may coexist with fire and responsibly steward California into a more balanced future.

“For every point of despair,” Obi says, “I have a counterpoint of hope for the survival and restoration of the natural world. … As long as there is time, there is hope.”

Praise for Obi Kaufmann

“Obi Kaufmann’s books are like bibles to me. . . . They’re beautifully drawn, written, printed and bound, and they explain California’s natural beauty better than anything I’ve read before.”

—Dave Eggers

“[Kaufmann’s] approach encourages a love of place, which is often the first step toward wanting to protect and preserve it.”

American Scientist

“Kaufmann’s gaze easily ranges from the micro to the macro. … As a reader you are invited to join him on a journey of discovery—not as a passenger but as an active participant.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“[Kaufmann] swirls research with poetry, the personal and human with the collective and ecological.”

Mother Jones

“His deft hand and knowing eye convey not only wild beauty but some of the essence of his subjects. … They offer rich amounts of information, with varied but encompassing glimpses of the features he observes from place to place and how all the parts work together.”

The Press Democrat

“Kaufmann’s expressive writing is matched by his creativity as an artist … Audubon-esque in style and scope.”

San Francisco Examiner

“Obi wants to inspire us to be optimistic, not fatalistic about the world we find ourselves in. Stories of recovery are all around us if we open our eyes. He believes we can, indeed, reverse course and save what we have inherited.”


Media Contact:
Kalie Caetano
Marketing & Publicity Director, Heyday

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Obi Kaufmann is the author of The California Field Atlas (2017, #1 San Francisco Chronicle Best Seller), The State of Water (2019), The Forests of California (2020), The Coasts of California (2022), and The Deserts of California (2023), all published by Heyday. When he is not backpacking, you can find the painter-poet at home in the East Bay, posting trail paintings at his handle @coyotethunder on Instagram. His speaking tour dates are available at, and his essays are posted at