Working with fire

Jam of the week: “Day 13” by Ta-ku

Last week was exceptional in a couple ways. It marked the official moving of my heavy clothing into storage with temperatures chasing triple digits. It also marked the second and third time I’ve responded to a local fire.

Before last week, the only fire call I reported on at the scene was earlier in winter, and was a fire that was mostly contained by the time I showed up. These last two fires were markedly different, as I was quick to be on scene.

The first fire was Tuesday last week. You probably remember that day, a week ago as I write this, for how incredibly hot it was outside. I didn’t know when I first saw that the National Weather Service put out a fire weather warning that it would lead to something, but I suppose you should heed any warning that sounds as intimidating as “fire weather.”

I was quick to leave the office when we got a call about a fire in rural Hamilton County northwest of Webster City. It was a structure fire, what looked like a shack, that had also damaged the siding of a couple warehouses storing large farming equipment near it. I spent about a half-hour worrying about little more than getting good photos of the fire. Being on a farm, the area was easily accessible once I identified myself to law enforcement officials on scene.

One of the lessons that stuck from my photography class is that, usually, the closer the photographer can get to their subject, the better. Of course, when you’re dealing with fire, and trying to stay out of the way of other people who are also trying to do their job, that lesson becomes a bit more of a light suggestion. Still, I was close enough to get soaked more than once, which was more welcome than usual on that unusually hot day.

The fire on Thursday at Electrolux was similar in many of those facets. However, it came as much more of a surprise. I had just reached a stopping point while working on page layout at the office, and decided to go grab dinner. I was on my way back, heading west in downtown, when I saw the thick smoke north of downtown.

I tore back into the office, tossed my sandwich in the fridge, grabbed my camera and anything else I needed, and sped through the few blocks separating the office and Electrolux. There were already about a dozen cars parked across the street watching the fire by the time I arrived. I parked near them, and started walking toward the building, through the gate.

Even though I grabbed my press pass, just in case, it’s amazing where you can go while simply carrying a camera and carrying yourself in a confident fashion. I walked across the parking lot, getting to a far ramp door where I got some of my best photos of the fire.

Of course, there are the less glamorous details of covering a fire that I left out. Chiefly among those details was the waiting. A fire like the one that caused most of Des Moines St. north of Second St. to be covered in smoke takes time to clear, and I was left waiting, watching the gawkers pass by in cars for longer than I care to recall before I had a chance to speak to an official on scene. There’s also that exhausted feeling of coming back smelling like burning garbage, wet clothing and sweat.

Still, the rush of a job well done made it worthwhile.