Monday, June 03, 2013

My Completely Unexpected Saturday at the Powerhouse Fire

Saturday I was working around the house and had plans for the evening.  My cell phone rang.


The call was from one of my fellow News Photographers and SAT truck operators who was out covering the Powerhouse Fire.

The call started out simple.  It got worse.

Routing communications in the satellite truck is difficult.  It's more complicated.  There are options (satellite phones) that aren't available in our microwave trucks and Michael Johnson (the truck op) wanted to make sure he had everything squared away.

During the course of the phone call, the SAT truck's generator died.

IMG_3207_130601.jpgThat's what we usually call a scorched earth situation.

Away from shore power, the truck can't run without the generator.  We ended the call.  Mr. Michael Johnson needed time to focus on troubleshooting.

At this point, I could have gone on with my day.  I didn't.


The fire was burning in an area where a satellite shot was the only option.

I called the assignment desk and asked if they'd like me to come in and run our newer SAT truck. 

Right now, there's only four photographers who are trained on the newer truck.  One was on vacation; one was out of town; the third might have been available, but it was me who was on the phone and I was just a quick shower away from jumping into my van and heading into work.

The writing was kind of on the wall.


This was the way things went.

The station took me up on my offer.  I showered and drove in, grabbed the new SAT truck and headed up towards the fire.

In terms of flames, this day was quite different from my Friday.


The fire had burned overnight and was now in much more accessible areas.

On Friday I was measuring my distance from open flames in miles.


We were measuring our distance from the flames in feet (and inches) on Saturday.


It looks dangerous because it is.

I wouldn't want to underestimate the potential for the fire to surprise us, so we're working very carefully.  As long as I have a clear route to safety, I don't worry too much about the danger.


I do worry about the soot and smoke.  It makes it difficult to see and breathe and some of the embers are still hot when they touch your skin.

This day I don't play around with putting mask and goggles on.


We find a safe spot to set up for our live shot.  Downed power lines prevent us from getting any further ahead of the fire.


For the next few hours we do our job, but watch as the fire alternates between lighting up the area and leaving us in darkness.

Bugs are flying everywhere.  We try to keep the van doors closed so they don't swarm around the lights inside.


I can't speak for what other people feel or think when they witness a fire of this magnitude.  For me, there's a clear sense of the power of fire.

It amazes me and I've covered a few of these, so it's not as if this is my first time seeing the destructive capability of a wildfire.

Sure, it's very humbling, but at the same time your adrenaline is pumping and you're absolutely on the edge because every instinct you have is telling you how much better sense it would make to head away from the fire instead of standing there in its' path with a camera doing live shots.

Nerves of steele?

Nah.  I was making time and a half for coming in on my day off.



Nikki said...

Friend, you both need your full fire gear on. That includes hat and shoes. I was trapped covering a raging forest fire once. Actually had to hold down a shelter while the flames jumped to and fro. The looks on the Firefighters' face was wild. Even more frightening, staring into the eyes of a huge Buck, scared to death and ready to trample over me to get out! Peace to you and all of my California peeps :-)

Tim Hart said...

Nice pix. Get a helmet and one of those flappy things that keep the embers from going down your collar. And why isn't Laurie wearing nomex? Shooters need nomex: we get tunnel vision and can't see embers, etc. coming at us.

Bryan Frank said...

Good advice. Next fire I promise to gear up fully.