Monday, March 4, 2013

Riverbottom Fire - The bane of our existance episode #6

I was sitting in the dentist's chair when the kid texts me a picture of a large column of smoke. A few minutes later, a captain from my former employer texts me and tells me that the riverbottom is on fire again. A few minutes after that, I look up from the chair and see the fire live on TV. As the dentist was standing around waiting for me to numb-up, I didn't feel right about tossing of the bib and heading over to the river bottom and shoot. Thus, it was well after dark when I arrived.

As the Santa Anas were blowing, (and I had just watched it on TV) I figured that the scene was going to be a little hectic. I was not disappointed in that regard.

I parked a few blocks away and walked in. There were enough embers blowing through the air that I had reservations about leaving the truck there. As I approached the street that backs up to the river bottom, I found my beloved RFD hard at work. as well as the chaotic conditions that exist when fire tries to come out of the river bottom and wreak havoc in the neighborhood.

My lens was instantly dirtied by ash and water. Small fires abounded as did embers flowing through the air.

I followed an 1 1/2' into a back yard. Frankly, things didn't look much better there either.

 I spoke with some guys I knew, in a backyard I had probably been in several times before, and found that things were pretty much going OK, in the same manner that they gone many times before. I opted to bump down the block and around the corner to see what was up over there.

Of course, I had to shoot some pics along the way. They crews, though busy, were keeping ahead of the spots. A multitude of hose lines were pulled, each heading in a different direction.

Around the corner, things were picking up. I went into a back yard, one that is often used as a location for a command post as it offers a commanding view of the river bottom. On this night, it was just me, a couple of firefighters, a city councilman and the property owner.

The wind shifted several degrees and the main threat shifted as well. Time to move on. On the way, I spot my old unit. My former shift is on duty, The guy on the left was on my crew, I have absolutely no idea who the guy on the rights is.

More of the same. 

Guys on the roof,

guys with green lines.

all trying to keep  little fires from growing into big ones.

As many times as I have seen a fan palm tree blow up, I still stop and watch. There is a tragic beauty when they torch. The irony is that despite their beauty, I hate them. They are giant weeds that are a pain in the ass when they burn. To add insult to injury, they rarely die when they burn and they reproduce like rats.  They are the rodent weeds of the tree world.


Frankly, it is a lot more fun to photograph the rodent trees than it is to extinguish them. 

Though some might initially disagree, I'm pretty sure that as the night wore on, more of the crews saw things my way - though they obviously had no choice in the matter.

On many of these larger fires, it is often the weather that dictates how quickly the dragon is slain. This night was no exception. The winds died down and the fire's movement did as well. I realized that the amazing fireground shot wasn't going to occur, so I decided to leave. I said good by to some friends and hoofed it back to my truck. I took the parting shot below, most of these crews were there all night.

Though in ever decreasing numbers, crews were on scene for over two days. No houses were lost though a few were damaged. A RV and some bushes caught fire a half mile away (see the video in my previous post) and I caught it on my way home. Though the cause is still under investigation, it is speculated that embers from the river bottom ignited it. Based on my long history with the river bottom and they way that embers were flying around when I arrived I would not be surprised. 

More on that fire later.

Thanks for reading,



  1. There are some great pics there. I love the embers flying horizontally in the first photo. That's scary stuff to people like me (that is, sane people who run _away_ from fires).

    I love the guy on the roof with the red background. Artsy fartsy!

  2. Thanks Wayne - I must say that this was a lot of fun to shoot, though there wasn't a lot of massive walls of flame. It did force me to work a little bit on my artsy-fartsy side though.

    Thanks again.