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|| News Item: Posted 2011-06-14

Into The Fire
Safety First When It Comes To Covering Wildfires

By Rafael Agustin Delgado

Photo by Rafael Agustin Delgado

Photo by Rafael Agustin Delgado

Carbon Canyon Fire
There is no photo worth your life! When in doubt, leave the scene. However if you do venture pass the blockade, here are some items that may help when covering fires.

No Laker NBA finals this year meant my fire setup received its annual dust off, much sooner than normal.

First is the gear. The photo gear is quite typical of many assignments. Rock a telephoto, a wide, and a low light prime. Whatever you do avoid changing lenses. UV filters have a tendency to get heavy condensation. However bare front elements exposed has its dangers as well. There are not many environments worst for a camera. Dust, wind, ash, fire, and water don’t go well for SLR’s. Whatever you take into this environment, consider it disposable. Insurance is a nice.

This is the setup that will allow one to cross the blockade. Just because one has it, does not mean it will keep you from burning. It only prevents a certain level of exposure. The Nomex basics are the wild land Nomex jacket, pants, good boots, helmet, Nomex hood, gloves and fire shelter. If you happen to be an extra loving size like me, you got to get the large size fire shelter.

Price has little to do with the cost when one’s life in the mix. A good respirator by 3M goes a long way. Carry spare filters. Along with goggles that do not allow ash to pass. Under the Nomex one should wear cotton. Synthetic clothing like under armor will continue to burn your skin even when extinguished. Cotton will not.

Access is everything
It is pretty hard to make the images without being there. Here in the state of California penal code 409.5 (d) helps out a great deal. In most states, media is not allowed any where near the fire line. However this by law is a great asset in California.

“Nothing in this section shall prevent a duly authorized representative of any news service, newspaper, or radio or television station or network from entering the areas closed pursuant to this section.”

Link to the whole penal code:

A print out of 409.5 helps, but officers will know it. Do not be a prick if you have to bring it to their attention. It does not take much for them to make your job a lot harder.

Keep in mind 409.5 is not a bill of right to be screaming: “I am media, let me in now.” It is still a privilege to be working in this field. When allowed to cross the barricade it is a heavy burden on all parties. You are there to share information and document the event. Do not to add to an already dangerous scene by going for sight seeing.

Whenever I approach the blockade, I usually stop and introduce myself to the officer. I let them know who I am, who I am working for, my intentions and my plan while covering the fire. This goes along way. There is no need to go flying into the scene.

Whatever the fire crew say, adhere to their request. Do not block streets. Do not block driveways. Do not block fire hydrants, I have seen it. Would think this one was common sense. Do not run over water hoses. Do not get in the way of the fire crews. They will let you do your job as long you let them do theirs. Always back in your vehicle to allow for quick departures. I myself leave my spare key in my truck’s ignition. Besides if your vehicle is needed to be moved and you are not around. Hopefully someone is around to keep your car from burning.

Photo by Rafael Agustin Delgado

Photo by Rafael Agustin Delgado

Tea Fire
Situational Awareness is vital when on the fire scene. Much like any other scenario with many unknowns, stay focus. Gas lines leaking, burnt trees aka widow makers, are items one wants to avoid. It helps to work such an event with a buddy. Keep the radio on for updates. It also helps to see other photographer’s take on the wires. Google maps helps a lot, but make sure to have a navigation unit. Do not corner yourself without a route of escape. Fires move quickly and they actually move up hill faster than downhill.

If you happen to get dumped by a water helicopter, expect the water drop to fall for some time. The Tea Fire reminded me how much water copters actually carry. And yes the helicopter pilots enjoy aiming the drops on those that happen to be on the ground.

And please do not pull a “Chuck Henry”. Whenever the ash is heavy, keep the engine running. Shutting it off will only allow the air filter to clog. No air to the engine, means no combustion. If it does not turn over, AAA is not an option. When the fire comes, you may be crying like a child saying “stupid truck” much like Chuck Henry, a local television reporter. When the fire crews say to move, move. I hope Chuck learned his lesson after loosing a company film van unnecessarily to a fire back in 2003.

If you care to study fire technology, two schools in Southern California offer great programs. Mount Sac is better known however, LA Valley College, also offers a great fire program. This is good way to learn the characteristics of fire.

Most importantly know your own limits. There is no need to add to the mess. When you are tired, drive away from the scene and recoup. Transmit your images. Stay hydrated and as fresh as possible. There are few events more strenuous than covering a fire. And when it is over one will feel it afterward. And weeks later the car will still smell like ash.

The decision to cover such an event is not a light choice. If you do go, be prepared. The images will come. It is pretty hard not to make memorable frames in the wild land fire scenario. Lastly I will repeat my beginning statement. There is no photo worth your life! When in doubt, leave the scene.

Helpful links
Fire Classes Mt. Sac LA Valley

Nomex Gear All Star Fire Any one is welcome to stop at their warehouse and main office in Arcadia, Ca. They are just off the 605 freeway. To get sized, and set up with Nomex, just talk to Rene. 12328 Lower Azusa Road Arcadia, California 91006 USA Phone: 626-652-0900 Toll Free: 800-425-5787 Contact: Rene Reyes Office: 626-652-0900 Fax: 626-652-0919 Email:

Nomex Customization Turnout Maintenance Company Ask for Olivio TURNOUT Maintenance Company, LLC 7734 Garden Grove Blvd. Westminster, CA 92683 877-988-FIRE (Toll Free) 714-894-1617 (Information)

Rafael Agustin Delgado is Southern California based freelance photographer. His work can be view on his Sports Shooter member page: and at his personal website: .

Contents copyright 2019, Do not republish without permission.
Jabbed in the ribs, smacked in the head, eyed by the SS. Welcome to the Iowa Caucus. ::..