Fire and ice

January 23, 2013

Chicago, Illinois

By John Gress

UPDATE: January 24th

You never know how the assignment is going to go when you decide to put on the same clothes you had on the day before. Why? Because they smell like smoke!

I made a return trek to the ice castle today, an abandoned warehouse which has been burning for three days. Quite surprising considering most of the building has collapsed and is covered in inches of ice.

While covering the blaze today, I photographed firefighter Michael De Jesus covered in icicles. When he told me his name I asked, “Do you know Charley?”

He replied. “That’s my dad!” “Oh, I took pictures of him yesterday on the back side of the building.” “I know. He’s on the cover of the Red Eye,” Michael explained.¬†Despite my conversation with Michael, I really didn’t expect the photo on the cover of one of the local papers to be my picture, because there were a lot of photographers covering the story. But sure enough, it was.¬†¬†

I’m still stunned that my best pictures from both days were of people from the same family.

January 23rd: I woke up this morning, tossing and turning with all kinds of thoughts and ideas running through my head as I came up with concepts for a photo shoot I have on Friday. Then, the phone rang, it was Reuters Editor Hans Deryk asking me to take photos of a warehouse fire, apologizing for the early call. I told him, “Are you kidding me? I have been waiting for this for 10 years!”

Ever since I moved to Chicago I have heard about houses and buildings encased in ice following fires and yet I have never seen one with my own eyes. Keep in mind, it rarely snows in my native Portland, Oregon, so winter is a bit of a treat.


Getting to the scene, I started to scope things out, seeing where pictures looked their best and feeling out how the police would act as I got close. Thankfully, today they were more concerned with keeping the public back and less inclined to exit their warm squad cars to keep the press at bay.

While the leeward side of the building was covered in ice, making great frames of icicle covered windows and firefighters in aerial platforms spaying down hot spots, I knew I had to make my way all around the building.

Once I made my way over ice, icy water and a little debris, I was on the windward side of the warehouse, sucking smoke and looking at trucks encased in ice, leaving my mind to wonder if their windows would still be intact once they thaw.

This winter wonderland is where I found Chicago Fire Department Lieutenant Charley De Jesus, making his way over the ice, keeping an eye on his men and occasionally breaking through a top layer of the glaze and sinking down to the snow and slush below.

It’s about this time that the inevitable happened… the hole in my boot that I had been thinking about ever since I left the house was now betraying me. So much for dry socks!

One comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Thanks you for these amazing ideas! I was wondering if you had any suggestions for any photographers that do family portraits in cincinnati oh ?

Posted by wendydavis | Report as abusive