Photographers' Blog

Fighting fire with photos

Ketchum, Idaho

By Jim Urquhart

Fire in the west has always been part of my experience. In the summer months I often find the blue skies replaced with a dark orange glow of smoke. With my chosen career path these smoke-filled skies can mean a busy time of year but they seem to have started later in the summer than usual.

I keep a complete fire kit (nomex shirt, nomex pants, emergency fire shelter, leather boots, leather gloves, helmet and goggles) in my truck from the time the snow melts in the spring to until several inches of snow have returned in the fall. I found you always have to be ready to go and nimble because in the heat of the west all it takes is one errant cigarette butt, one hot car engine parked in the dry grass or one well-placed powerful lightning bolt to be called to work.

GALLERY: IDAHO WILDFIRE

The year’s fires began to take shape for me last week. During a camping trip bolts of lighting had started several fires that were visible on the way home. These fires for the most part were in unpopulated areas. Then an afternoon looking at photos with friends was interrupted with the news of fire breaking out east of Park City, Utah, of the hills above the Rockport Reservoir. I monitored the growth from afar through the night but when it was determined that it had begun to take homes I struck out to cover it in the morning.

Once on scene it became apparent that while the risk for more fire was still there, it was more or less going to be a mop-up operation for some time to come. Then we got word that two fires near the towns of Boise and Mountain Home, Idaho had been really demonstrating some aggressive behavior. I had a couple contacts from previous fires that I’ve worked on before that were assigned to work these fires. We chatted and I was on my way first thing the next morning.

As I neared the Pony and Elk Complex fires east of Mountain Home I was hit with a think wall of low level ground smoke about 60 miles away from it. I knew it was going to be a busy day so I called my wife and let her know everything was going well on the road. I also told her I was going to be swamped and not to worry unless she doesn’t hear from me until the next day. I had learned a valuable lesson the year before.

Marathon inferno

Marathon, Greece

By Yannis Behrakis

It was a typical August day in Athens — very hot and windy. I was driving around town on my scooter when I stopped next to a fire brigade jeep at a traffic light. An officer in the vehicle asked me if I was happy with my scooter. I said: “yes I’m happy. Are you happy with the weather conditions?” He smiled and said: “I’m sure we will have many forest fires these days. There are a few burning in central Greece as we speak.”

It was less than an hour later when I received a message on my mobile phone from the fire brigade about a fire in Marathon, some 40-45 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Athens, where the Athenians fought the Persians in a historic battle in 490 BC. Sources said that police and the fire brigade had started evacuating a hamlet in the area. I took my gear and a few masks for the dust and raced to the area on my scooter. It was really windy and for the last few miles, the traffic on Marathon Avenue was heavy — both ways — as some people were fleeing and others were trying to reach their homes and protect them from what looked to be a fire out of control. Police were stopping vehicles from reaching the area to provide clear access to fire engines and fire brigade troops. In order to pass through, I drove closely to a speeding ambulance and managed to pass all the police check points.

The area was covered by smoke and the one main road was full of water containers, police cars, fire fighters and a few local volunteers. I left the scooter off road in a field and rushed into the forest behind a group of fire fighters and a couple of volunteers. It was intense. The strong wind would change direction again and again, burning trees and thick bush as helicopters and fire fighting planes flew overhead dropping water. The heat was extreme and the smoke made it hard to see. In some cases, I was taking pictures unable to see as the smoke made my eyes watery and sore.

Pierced by a mother’s grief

Gujrat, Islamabad

By Faisal Mahmood

It was my day off, but for some reason I’d woken up early. As I was about to have breakfast with my wife and children the phone rang. It was my picture editor. A school bus had caught fire in Gujrat, 100 miles from Islamabad. Seventeen children were dead.

As I gathered my cameras, I could not stop thinking about how the parents must have sent their children to school after sharing the same kind of breakfast we’d just been having at home. I was dreading what I would find.

It took three hours to reach Gujrat. A large crowd had gathered near the charred remains of the bus. I saw three lunch boxes discarded on the ground. I couldn’t help but think about my own children’s lunch boxes, which I sometimes prepare before dropping them off at school.

Lahore Inferno: Losing the battle with fire

WARNING: DISTURBING CONTENT

Lahore, Pakistan

By Damir Sagolj

A man wearing traditional white Pakistani clothes disappeared from the window back into the burning building. A minute later, a different man wearing black emerged from inside but it looked like someone was holding his lifeless body. The body was slowly pushed over the edge of the window and then released. Twenty seconds later the man in white came out again. He sat calmly for a few seconds in the open window with his back turned outwards and then just fell.

GALLERY: MEN FALL FROM BUILDING INFERNO

And that was it; both men were dead in less than a minute. After several long hours of fighting a raging fire (or were they short hours? Time gets twisted in extreme situations like this), this part of the story ended in the way I had feared from the beginning – the worst possible way. I shot pictures of people falling from the building to their deaths, of others crying on the ground, of desperate and helpless rescue workers.

It was supposed to be an easy pre-election day in Lahore. We did expect some heat as the campaign of the two main candidates was coming to an end but what happened that Thursday still haunts me without any signs of easing. What started as an easy day for me and poor government workers in their modern office building in Punjab’s capital ended with more deaths than in election violence across the country over the next few days.

The tragic legacy of KISS

Santa Maria, Brazil

By Ricardo Moraes

It was an unforgettable end to enormous pain and a ravaged mind. The last day of coverage of one of Brazil’s greatest tragedies touched me so much that I’m only going to tell how the story ended.

The morning of January 30, 2013, I met a woman who was devastated, confused, and completely lost inside of herself – wounded to the heart.

The first contact with her was moving. We arrived at a building on the outskirts of Santa Maria and knocked on the door of apartment 121, on which there was a message left by children offering help and consolation for a woman named Gelsa. In spite of the obvious clue that inside lived the mother of a disaster victim, we hadn’t reached that place by chance; we were led there by Carlos, a friend of Gelsa, the woman whose small family had now been reduced to just one, herself.

The KISS that ended in tragedy

Santa Maria, Brazil

By Edison Vara

It was early Sunday when my cell phone began ringing nonstop. Reuters called to inform me of a tragedy that was happening in the Kiss nightclub in the city of Santa Maria, with more than 70 known dead initially. That number would soon rise past 230. After more than 30 years as a photojournalist I was still jolted by the news, grabbed my equipment, and left for the site three hours away.

When I reached the gymnasium in Santa Maria where the bodies were being taken for identification, I was shocked to see the parents, children, brothers and sisters of victims searching for information, but I had to photograph all these moments of desperation, with respect for those who didn’t want me to.

The gym’s courtyard was soon transformed into a two-way street of coffins entering and leaving, difficult scenes to photograph. Four soldiers passed by carrying a body barely covered with a white sheet, without a coffin, to a waiting hearse.

Riding through flames and fury

San Bartolome de Pinares, Spain

By Sergio Perez

Despite its relative short distance from Madrid, around 100km (62 miles), I have never been in the small village of San Bartolome de Pinares. It is situated in the heart of a small valley surrounded by reservoirs and forest and is well known to trekkers and cyclists alike. However, a traditional night celebration which takes place every January 16th, known as “Las Luminarias”, is little known.

During the celebration, in honor of Saint Anthony, Patron of animals, revelers ride their horses through the narrow cobble-stoned streets to purify the animals with the smoke and flames of the bonfires.

The feeling when you arrive for the first time is that the whole village enjoys a festivity of which you are a part. Around two hours before it begins, all riders prepare their horses, bandaging the tail to protect them from the fire and decorating the manes of the animals.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 31 July 2011

Ramadan started in Asia on Sunday and Indonesia-based photographer Ahmed Yusef produced this beautiful image to mark the start of the most important period in the Muslim calendar. The viewer focuses on the young woman's eyes as the red scarf draws you to her through a sea of swirling white created by a slow exposure. Also in Indonesia, Dwi Oblo's picture draws you into the picture through  light and smoke to evoke a real feeling of people humbling themselves as they pay respects to their dead relatives as they also prepare for Ramadan.

Muslim woman attend mass prayer session "Tarawih", which marks the beginning of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, at Al Markaz Al Islami mosque in Makassar, South Sulawesi July 31, 2011. Muslims around the world abstain from eating, drinking and conducting sexual relations from sunrise to sunset during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Islamic calendar. REUTERS/Ahmad Yusuf 

 Indonesian Muslims pray at the graves of their relatives in Bantul in central Java, July 25, 2011, ahead of Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Indonesian Muslims traditionally visit the graves of their loved ones before and towards the end of the holy month. REUTERS/Dwi Oblo

Meeting a homeless “Millionaire”

I’d heard of Rubina Ali in my earlier visits to the Gharib Nagar shanty colony outside Mumbai’s suburban Bandra station but had never had the opportunity to meet her. It took a raging fire through the colony to finally bring me face-to-face with the child star of the Oscar-winning film “Slumdog Millionaire”.

People watch from a nearby building as a fire burns in a slum in Mumbai March 4, 2011.   REUTERS/Vivek Prakash

On Friday night, after a long day out in the field covering various stories, I was finally on my way home. Suddenly I got a call from a friend about a major fire in the slums close to Bandra railway station in suburban Mumbai. I immediately called my colleague, Mumbai-based Reuters photographer Vivek Prakash, who lives quite close to where the fire had broken out. While Vivek rushed to the spot, I reached there shortly after. An inferno was burning in place of the small fire I’d imagined it to be.

A local resident walks with a stick as he tries to help put out a fire in a slum in Mumbai March 4, 2011.  REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

I had spent several afternoons roaming around in these slums that were now burning. The fire had engulfed several hundred shanties, as the residents watched helplessly their lives’ savings go up in flames.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 06 March 2011

I do enjoy a coincidence. The week after calls for prodemocracy demonstrations under the social media tag of "Jasmine Revolution" and the week before  the National People's Congress (NPC), International journalists (and I of course include photographers under this title) are brought in by the authorities for "chat". During the "chat" they are reminded of the terms of their journalist visas and how quickly these visas can be revoked if the rules are broken on illegal reporting. Also outlined are places that special permission is needed to report from, Tiananmen Square heading the list. Our picture of a member of the PLA leaving the Great Hall in Tiananmen Square appearing to almost step on the photographer with this low angle picture, as I said I do love a coincidence.

CHINA-DEFENCE/

A military delegate from the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) leaves the Great Hall of the People after a meeting during the annual session of China's parliament, the National People's Congress, in Beijing March 4, 2011. China said on Friday that its official military budget for 2011 will rise 12.7 percent over last year, returning to the double-digit rises that have stoked regional disquiet about Beijing's expanding strength. REUTERS

Inside the Great Hall Jason shot this fantastic, Daliesque image of the headless conductor who appears to radiate waves from the central red star that has replaced his head. Another picture that caught my eye is the image of the patient watching the national address by China's Premier Wen Jiabao from her hospital bed. I wonder if the remote is within reach as these speeches tend to go on for quite a long time and imagine that if you are in hospital in pain there is only so much economic news you can absorb at one time ? Moving away from Beijing and the NPC I am really drawn to Aly's picture of the construction site which was shot to illustrate the housing inflation story in China (not an easy one at any stretch of the imagination). The metal reinforcement supports look like leafless trees, the solitary figure trudging through a lifeless, snowy landscape. 

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