” ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL, THEN
A FEW BECOME FIREMEN. “
I’d been on the fire line with the tools of the trade; fire rake, pulaksi and mcleod and left the saw to the hotshots.
There is an excitement, sense of duty, and fear being so close to the flame. The challenge to overcome the beast and win is great.
As a photographer it is only the tool that makes the difference. There are no suppression techniques only thoughts of documentation with the camera which helps mask the fear. The challenge to overcome and win is as great.
The plume looked to be a white monster and burning arrow straight to the ski. There was no mistaking the signs of it being an extreme burn and sharing space with an abundance of fuel.
They had already named the blaze the “Pondosa Fire” and by the time it was over it would consume 23,400 acres of tall timber and the power to generate extensive high severity burn patterns that would be studied for years after.
It was a late afternoon in 1977 a very hot August day, much like a blast furnace with the windows rolled down; the type of day the car air conditioner is less than useless.
The drive took about two hours. On television I had seen images looking into the eye of a hurricane, this looked very much the same.
There was little activity in the fire camp as it was all hands on the line and the expected help from the south and the Oregon units had not arrived. The Redding jumpers were on it early but there was no getting a handle on something this big in the early stages.
The timing was perfect as a young Forestry incident commander was heading out to do a bit of recon on the flanks to help confirm an attack plan. I asked for a lift tossing my bag on the cab floor of the truck keeping one Nikon body with the 28mm in my hand.
Thick dust from the fire road mixed with the heavy smoke as we moved up the right flank. The idea was just to get a sense of where to deploy resources.
It was just seconds of looking down to retrieve another lens and when I looked back up the windshield was filled with flame. My driver appeared to be mumbling with sweat pouring from beneath his helmet. With every bounce the cab door handle seemed to be warmer. Over hundred foot pine and fur trees were exploding like a rocket launch leaving a rain of hot embers bouncing off the green metal truck hood.
Through the deafening rumble I thought I heard “we’re screwed!”
For the first time I could remember, my concern was not about making pictures.