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|| News Item: Posted 2009-05-26

A Learning Experience; Brooks Student Covers The Jesusita Fire
Troy Harvey learned so many invaluable lessons that he will be able to apply to any future fire that he shoots.

By Troy Harvey

Photo by Troy Harvey / Brooks Institiute, © 2009

Photo by Troy Harvey / Brooks Institiute, © 2009

OCFD firefighters keep an eye on the Jesusita Fire from N. Ontare Rd. in Santa Barbara, Calif., on Thursday, May 7, 2009. The fire has consumed an estimated 80 homes and destroyed nearly 2,700 acres.
I received a phone call in the late afternoon hours of May 6, informing me of a fire in the hills of Santa Barbara. Not knowing the exact details of the fire, I quickly packed my things and headed for the flames.

However, as I approached the scene I realized that this fire was more unpredictable and violent then the fires I had covered in the past. As I made my way closer to the action, I was confronted with high winds that allowed the embers to spark into flames anything in their path and large black clouds that billowed from the mountainside.

After assessing the situation, it became clear to me that in order to get the photographs I wanted and remain safe I would have to think fast and stay aware of my surroundings at all times.

Once I reached the active areas, my adrenaline was high and my thoughts raced between getting the photographs and maintaining a safe distance from the flames and the heat. With the intimation of the flames and the haunting sounds of the wildfire, I made sure to follow strict instructions given to me by the fire department.

I was well aware of the radio transmissions between fire crews and the sudden change of the fire patterns that would send fire fighters running to their trucks. In addition to being in tune with my surroundings, I also made sure to have up-to-date information of which roads were too dangerous and where I was in relations to the fire. This was essential in helping me devise an escape plan in case things became too dangerous and I had to leave. It was these small steps that allowed me to document the fire without being harmed in anyway.

When I first approached this assignment, I had no idea that the Jesusita Fire would cause as much devastation as it did. Although I had covered fires in the past, this particular fire helped me to reevaluate how I behave as a photojournalist in such a dangerous and ever-changing situation.

I learned that thinking quickly and clearly can help you get the shots needed to tell a vital story as well as help you to remain safe. In addition, I learned that being aware of your surroundings such as watching out for hoses, falling power lines or burning tree branches can allow for a safer environment which allows the photographer to get better images.

As I continued to shoot this assignment for several days, I discovered that you should never be too far from your vehicle as the situation could turn quickly and you may need to leave in a hurry. This fire has been an incredible experience and I have learned such invaluable lessons that I will be able to apply to any future fire that I shoot.

As for any students who might be interested in shooting a fire, I would say to expect the unexpected and to be ready. Think clearly and don't let the eagerness of getting the perfect photograph endanger your well-being or your life.

In addition, I would advise any student to get the proper fire gear before heading to a fire.

In many cases, entrance to the fire will be denied if the photographer does not have proper gear and it was not until I covered this fire that I realized how important fire gear was. Lastly, any student going on assignment should be well informed and have the latest information. This will cut down on any confusion and it will make the job that much easier.

Related Links:
Troy's member page

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