It is a cliché, but an appropriate one, to say that word of Matt Organista’s videos of the Thomas Fire spread like wildfire.
Organista intimately knows all the roads, trails, and landmarks in and around his hometown of Carpinteria. When the fire broke out, he set out for key vantage points and began posting live videos on social media. They became mandatory viewing for hundreds of residents, and through sharing, his audience went into the thousands.
“I got tons of [Facebook] friend requests, like 1,500 in four days,” he said. The popularity of his reporting arose from his ability to move around and tell viewers exactly where and when his images were being taken. “Up close and personal” is how one thankful fan described his efforts. “My roots are here,” Organista said. “I know of people who moved to the Netherlands and Australia who still feel like [Carpinteria] is their community.”
Organista, 28, is a triathlete who coaches water polo, swimming, and general fitness, with a side business in videography. “In almost all the work I do, I’m breathing air,” he said. His active lifestyle was essential to his mobility. He rode his bicycle to the top of Casitas Pass on the second day of the fire (Tuesday, December 5) and recorded his first video there. The next day, he went up Rincon Mountain, where his uncle Mike Organista had built a house, and the nearby brush was bursting into flames. “There weren’t any firefighters around,” he said. “My cousin Shaun and I were trying to fight the fire with gardening tools.”
His uncle’s house burned down overnight, and Organista turned his attention to Carpinteria, hiking up and down the hills to convey the scope of the fire. In all, he estimates he posted 60 videos in a 10-day period. Some of them originated from local restaurants, which he encouraged viewers to support.
Organista pursued his voluntary mission in spite of just having become a first-time father. His wife, Sarah, gave birth to daughter Eden May on November 30. The baby needed a hospital stay for a few days. Organista said, “When we were leaving the hospital on Monday, the lights flickered.”
Miles away, near Santa Paula, a fire had been born.