March 30, 2007

The BIG one


Monday I was ill and looked forward to a full night’s sleep before production day Tuesday. I nearly turned off my scanner to make sure I’d sleep, but the last time I did that, I missed the biggest fire in 75 years.

It was one county over, not in my coverage area -- though in my sister newspaper’s area -- but I couldn’t believe I’d missed it.

About 2 a.m. this Tuesday morning, I woke to hear a fire chief on the scanner ask for the public works department to boost water pressure. He then directed crews to do “like we did last time.” Immediately, I could hear units responding from all over the region. Some came from as far away two counties over, driving as far 25 miles.

Even considering my sickness and looming production day, I wasn’t going to miss the second giant fire.


Without ever hearing an address, I knew where to go.

A friend was staying with us, so I roused him from his slumber and he came along with me as I drove over a mountain, making 25 miles in just about 30 minutes.

We parked as close as possible and prudent and walked to the scene where I started making photos. It was nearly an hour after the initial dispatch, but we could still see a lot of flame, considering the elapsed time and thousands of gallons of water that firefighters were streaming onto the blaze each minute.

I quickly started seeing firefighter buddies, who were surprised to see me back in the old stomping grounds.

The sheer destruction was impressive. Rarely, if ever, have I personally seen fire do so much. And all this was almost literally a stone’s throw from the volunteer fire station.


News reports said that something like 100 people using 15 fire trucks fought the blaze. That included two ladder trucks, which poured water from above. Others pumped water nearly 1/4-mile from the river because the town's old water system couldn't provide the volume of water necessary to stop the blaze. Before that long hose lay was finished, tankers ferried water to the scene.

Crews did hold the fire from spanning a narrow alley to a brick building on the same block.


Dozens of spectators turned out to watch, and it was funny to walk along and hear kids and firefighters call my name with surprise. My fame from my days as the old sports guy still exists.


I got a little sleep back at home before heading to the office to put out a newspaper. Throughout the day, my sickness left me. (I then responded to another fire about the same time the next night, although this time it was in my newspaper's coverage area.)

Part of the reason I decided to go to the big fire Tuesday morning was the fact that none of the area newspapers was at the first big fire. I tried without luck to reach an editor for this fire. Our sister daily had a photographer there Tuesday morning, but the sister weeklies that cover that town did not have a presence other than me.

When I got to work, I e-mailed a selection of photos to the weeklies and called the reporter who covers the town. He went out and did a very good job, putting together a package of stories. And the two weeklies used a variety of the photos I sent, along with some submitted by firefighters and some taken after the sun rose.

Additional reading

PNC The old newspaper had the best coverage. (Link will disappear next week.)

Firehouse Photostory Submission by member of first-due FD.

Elkton FD Photos from second-due FD.

McGaheysville FD Photos from another mutual aid FD

Grottoes FD Photos from another mutual aid FD

Posted by JRC at March 30, 2007 06:11 PM | TrackBack