The thrill of covering a wildfire

July 18th, 2013 | by Jay Calderon | Comments

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I’ll preface this post by saying wildfires in general are awful events.  People lose homes, people and animals can be injured or die.  Millions of dollars are spent fighting them, etc.

But covering a wildfire is one of the more exhilarating things I get to do as a photojournalist.

On Tuesday when I went to the Mountain Fire raging near Lake Hemet, I arrived and shot some pics from a couple of miles away.  Those were fine but I wanted to get closer.  So I took a road that looked like it was right in the heart of the action and it was.  There was fire everywhere as I got closer.  Hundreds of firefighters were battling the blaze on the ground, by air, with bulldozers.  It was quite chaotic with action everywhere you looked.  This was it.  My adrenaline was pumping as I tried to balance excitement with the fact that I could be in danger with just a shift of the wind.

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As the winds picked up the smoke became very thick and I could no longer see the helicopters working overhead, I decided to go further up the road.  At this point I was alone and the flames were the biggest I had seen them yet as they burned up a ridge about 50 yards away.  I could feel the heat on my skin from this flare up and I visualized what my escape route would be if it got worse.  At this point I decided to do a  quick video report with my iPhone from the scene.

By now, I’m pretty much all alone in the wilderness, surrounded by flames, I keep shooting away, amazed that I’m able to be as close as I am.  I can’t describe how surreal it is being alone and potentially in danger but at the same time brimming with excitement taking photos like these.

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Just after this last shot I turned around and saw Los Angeles Times photographer Irfan Khan taking my picture.  And I think his is better even though I’m in at fire

After some time, the flames moved away and became less intense.  I filed my photos and sent them in.

The following day (Wednesday) the flames were more remote and I took some HDR (High Dynamic Range) photos of the large smoke column.  HDR is a process of taking 3-6 exposures of the same tripod-mounted composition, one exposed for the highlights, one for midtones, and one for the highlights and combining them with software to make a single dynamic photo.

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me covering fireHere I am.

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I’m thankful for the opportunity and here’s hoping I can get some more good shots as this fire looks like it could last for a couple more days. (weeks?  Let’s hope not.)



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