How to shoot a fire without getting charred

Vankleek Hill arsonists

There was a fire in a large field of long grass, sharp brush and short trees in L’Orignal, a small community a few minutes north-west of Vankleek Hill. We saw the smoke as we were driving back from Ottawa and decided at the last minute to find out what was going on.

The thing about grass fires is they spread in every direction. In this case it was bordered on two sides by two subdivisions, the third was a main street and the fourth was a dirt road and railway line.

As far as I can tell, I was the only news photographer on the scene… there was a kid shooting with a cellphone who followed me for a while, but otherwise I was it.

The first rule of photography, always have your camera with you and easily available because you never know when you’re going to have to shoot something.

The first rule of news photography is, always look like you belong. And just keep shooting, even when they’re kicking you out, just keep shooting.

I managed to get through two different police lines just by walking past them. On the side closest to the railway, I ended up standing beside the pumper truck, only about sixty feet from the fire line.

Later on, at the main line, where the fire came within a few metres of a new subdivision, I ended up walking around with the firefighters as they recovered from spending so much time out in the field. Another thirty feet and I’d have been walking on charred ground.

That was when the fire chief told me to back up. So I did. But I grabbed this shot, and a few others, as I was backing away.

I’ve got a pile of shots — one of which will be in the local broadsheet this week, a bunch of others are being played on our community TV station — so I’ll probably be posting more of them this week.

Vankleek Hill Photos copyright

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