Thursday, April 21, 2011

Texas, the Tinderbox....

It seems like the whole state of Texas is on fire right now, and from what I've been told that may not be too much of an exaggeration, I was told today that this week every county except two have had a wild fire this week... and it's only Wednesday. Since the beginning of the year more than 1.4 million acres have burned from wild fires and there isn't a whole lot of relief in sight right now. To put the 1.4 million acres into perspective, the state of Delaware is only 1.25 million acres.
On Monday, right after I'd gotten finished doing my taxes I got a call at home from my editor asking if I could go up in a helicopter to shoot photos of the "Wildcat Fire" in Coke County, about 80 miles southwest of Abilene. At the time it was the biggest fire in the state at over 100,000 acres.
Seeing these fires from the ground does almost no justice to how big these fires really are. As we were flying in you could see the smoke from about 40-50 miles away. As we got up close we had to go around the fire while waiting on approval from the command plane to let us shoot photos. It was amazing how much smoke was billowing into the air from the tops of the mountain. Looking down you could see all the carnage from the fires that ripped through.
After a few minutes the incident commander in the air let us in to get photos, we had to get high to stay above the helicopters dropping water on the fire. Then we moved over to try to shoot the ground units fight the blaze. From crews setting back fires to putting out hotspots, the thick uninhabited areas they just let burn to the tanker drop, there was no shortage of images to be made.
One part of the fire that I'd never gotten to experience was the radio chatter from the air units. It's pretty crazy how well run things are by the incident commander, who basically spends the whole time circling around in a spotter plane telling the helicopters where to drop and guiding in the tankers to the drop sites. Not to mention keeping us out of the way. However I'll say, my pilot Heath, owner of Polasek Helicopter Services, was awesome. He pretty much got me in position to get every shot I needed, and with a little help from the incident commander had us in near-perfect position for the tanker drop. After that we circled around a few more times to get shots of the ground crews before leaving to get the photos back. It worked out really well, and I think it did a pretty great job as showing the sheer size of the fire. Another really crazy thing I notice was how much the smoke blocked out the sun. All of these photos were shot within a 30 minute time. However, the tanker drop looked like it was shot after the sun set.






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