Thursday, September 2, 2010

Finally Getting a View

For two weeks (since 8/21) I've covered the Oak Flat Fire four times. The Oak Flat Fire is a wildfire burning about 20 miles West of Grants Pass, an hour from Medford. Every time I've been out there, I've talked with the Information Officers who pass on the official info about the fire, the acreage burned, the resources used, the plans for the future. These guys are at the fire for the sole purpose of releasing information and taking care of the media. They've done a great job so far.

They've given me maps of the fire, gotten me as much info as they can, explained the processes the firefighters are using, and helped us in any way possible. Every time I've met with them, they've encouraged me to come with them to the firelines to see the smoke from the fire. However, the firelines are about an hour from the camp (which is an hour from Medford) and time would work against us.

On Thursday, the producers gave me the OK to go out to cover the fire and go to the firelines.

I got to the Incident Command Post, where the officials monitor fire operations and where I've met the Information Officers, and was quickly given the proper gear (firefighting pants, shirt, helmet, gloves, and fire shelter). I had brought my own boots. I changed into the fire clothes and got into a truck with one of the Info Officers with my camera gear in the back.

We drove through miles of winding and gravel roads to get to Drop Point 57, a road that overlooked a basin where the fire was growing. Immediately I could see at least half a dozen smokes rising from different points across the miles of land. It was actually a very beautiful sight. Like something out of prehistoric times. Almost like volcanoes and hot spots letting off smoke.

We were there for about half an hour and two of the fires grew quickly in that time. The white smoke got thicker and turned greyish-black. Officials told me that the peak burning time is from 4-7pm when the sun has dried the fine fuels like grass and leaves and brush. It was very smoky by the time I left and I can't imagine how much worse it got by that evening. From the distance in Medford, a grey smoke haze was visible across about half of the horizon. It was all coming from that fire.

Because the drive to and from the fireline was so long, and I was still an hour away from the station, I got back very late. It was almost 4:00 by the time I got the station. Luckily, the producers rearranged the form of my stories and Tove helped me edit another story while I worked on my package. Though it's not how I pictured it when the day started, I'm still very happy with how the visuals turned out. After travelling to the Command Post several times and getting shots of maps and people walking around a campsite, to see firefighters working, helicopters flying, and smoke rising from the forest felt like a major accomplishment.

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