First of three posts:
Last March, I got to meet some of the most interesting people in this country. The Nature Conservancy sent me to it’s Niobrara Valley Preserve, located in northern Nebraska, in order to make a portrait of Jeremy Bailey, a former Hotshot firefighter and an expert in creating “good fire.”
I spent 2 days with Jeremy and other firefighters from around the country, who were at the Preserve for an intense multi-week workshop on prescription fire. After a slow morning the first day, the crews got some good fire going. Being a naive, I asked Jeremy to jump right in the scorched earth. Within 15 mins we had blown up one light (sorry to asst. Patrick Geske for the shocking experience), caught our subject on fire and were left choking and hacking from ash and smoke.
So, after 15 minutes in a small fire, which was lit, on-purpose, in an open field, I was ready to quit. It’s hard to tell how hot a fire is by looking at a photograph. I will tell you that while standing 10-feet from these prescribed fires, within about 15 seconds I felt like I had an intense sunburn.
So, I cannot imagine what it must be like to voluntarily hike 20 miles, up a mountain, over rugged terrain, in 100-degree heat in order to battle a fire that has flames reaching 200-feet tall and is as deafening as standing next to a jet’s engine. Add to that giant boulders crashing down the side of mountain, whilst on fire, and you might get a sense of what it’s like to be a Hotshot firefighter. It takes a special person to put themselves in that position — crazy, brave, selfless, all the above.
I created a lot of images that I am proud of, so I am going to split this post into two more posts: one of portraits of Jeremy and one of the images that I created for myself — reportage-style images.
Thanks go out to Director of Photography Melissa Ryan for the assignment tap, to Jeremy for putting up with me for all those hours in his pick-up and to all the firefighters that week who shared beer and stories.
Coincidentally, my buddy Chris Crisman photographed the cover story of this issue, which is also about wildland fire. Check out his blog for his experience. Also, my heart goes out to the families who recently lost loved ones in Arizona.