Last Thursday I was enjoying a day off but I was also keeping an eye on the weather. The forecast was for a very windy and hot day. Humidity levels had dropped to almost nothing and I knew there was a real possibility wildfires could make a run that day. But I was off, so I wasn’t too worried. As I check out the news in the morning I learned several small fire had started up over night that were sparked by dry-lightning strikes. But once again I was off so I went about my day.
I went to visit a friend and check out his remodel after a fire gutted a portion of his home. As I looked out across the valley from Carl’s home I could see smoke rising from the mountains near the west desert.
But I left to run some errands and head home for a bit. I was getting ready to go see my mom and to close with Dayna the next day on the purchase of our home. We also had plans to relax that night and maybe see a movie or go do a little drinking. Nothing major. But for some reason I went to go check that all my wildfire protection gear (Nomex flame retardant suit, hard hat, leather boots, hard hat, leather gloves and survival fire shelter) was in my car.
Just as I finished my editor called.
He noted he knew I was off, but said he needed my help and that a whole series of wildfires had broken out in the west desert in the Skull Valley area and there were sketchy reports that a ranch had been over run by flames.
Within a couple minutes I was out the door fully suited up and working the phones. I was tracking down who my reporter was and also talking to other reporters about how to get out of town. Earlier in the day, a Utah Highway patrolman shot and killed a fleeing suspect on Interstate 80 near the Salt Lake and Tooele county line and the interstate was closed in the direction I was going and road construction was impacting another route. With the help of two reporters I found a way west.
I was told to meet up with Bureau of Land Management folk at mile marker 77 where the exit to skull valley is and begin working there. As I raced across the interstate the day turned to night at mile marker 88 as a column of smoke and ash engulfed the interstate. My Subaru was being buffeted about by winds blowing about 50 MPH from the south and I knew this was going to get interesting.
Once at mile marker 77 I was greeted by two highway patrol vehicles blocking highway 196 into Skull Valley. Shit! Shit! Shit!
The road been closed because visibility had dropped to about nothing as a thick layer of smoke was being blown right at us from the fire that had grown from 10 acres a couple hours ago to more than 22,000 acres and run about 15 miles north to where I was.
It was so frustrating, you knew the fire was right there, but you couldn’t see it or anything because of the driving winds and the road block. This route was about the only road into the desert valley. Once I stepped out of my car, I was sandblasted by blowing pebbles and ash.
After sitting there frustrated for about an hour while trying to figure out how my reporter and I were going to cover this a BLM employee offered to try to get us past the road block and closer to the fire. However, we were quickly turned around when it was deemed too dangerous. The wind and smoke made seeing anything impossible.
However, later this same BLM employee made it possible to get to the northeast portion of the Stansbury mountains to get some pics of the leading edge of the fire.
Once there, I was able to get a few frames of firefighters getting ready to work that area as deadline was approaching. I made my photographs and edited and transmitted from on site and the pics made the front page.
Not bad for a day off.
The next day the winds were calmer and I was able go out and make a few more pictures, but nothing of much consequence.
We closed on our house and now I am beginning about seven weeks of desk duty. I am filling in for our deputy director of photography as he takes paternity. Just as fire season makes it late start for the year, I am tied to a desk. I guess it could be much worse though.