FIRE!

5:00 AM on a Monday, 2007 (my day off).

The phone rings, waking me up.  It’s my Photo Editor telling me I need to report to work immediately.  “The winds are getting out of control.”  My adrenalin started pumping; I got really excited.  One hour later, I’m suited up in my fire gear covering one of the largest wildfires in San Diego history.

The first place I find myself is a housing track in San Marcos, California.  The sky was orange-red with burnt debris flying everywhere.  The entire housing track was empty except for a few residents scuttling around their homes, checking for last-minute items to stuff into their cars.  It reminded me of a scene out of a George A. Romero zombie movie.  The police kept touring the track announcing that there was a mandatory evacuation, all residents needed to leave their homes.  The reason: a massive wildfire was rapidly approaching.  I pull over near this guy frantically loading his family and anything else he could fit in their car.  He was in complete disbelief of his predicament. He asked me if I thought his house would burn down. I didn’t know what to say; however, I felt I should be positive.  I told him not to worry, his house would likely survive.  I never went back to see if my prediction was correct.

Photojournalism is ripe with opportunities to meet so many people, from different backgrounds, each with their own story to tell.  These experiences paved the way to my current approach to photography.

Since those days back in 2007, my style has changed a bit.  Now my imagery is manipulated with everything deliberately placed in the scene.  However, the photojournalism never really left me.  Having a strong narrative is the foundation to all of my projects.

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6 comments
  1. Hi Tim, yup that was intense. I’m the photographer that was caught up in that fiery. “They were pissed” was an understatement. Those photos caused me more grief in the years to follow. I was subpoenaed by both the State Attorney General and SEMPRA demanding I turn over my photos or face jail time. I have a very good friend now at the ACLU. Hey Sean, glad to see your shooting agin!

    • Hi Nick. Wow, I didn’t know that was you in Tim’s story. Small world. Glad you made it out safely. I’m curious as to why you were asked to turn over your images?

  2. Tim Ryland said:

    Hey, I was one of those residents sent to the local high school gym in San Marcos by sheriffs patroling our neighborhood to make sure we all left. Didn’t really fear for my house, and wanted to get home asap. At the gym I ran into a freelance photographer for the newspaper where I worked. He reeked of smoke and was still shaken by a near-death experience he had had at an Escondido winery half an hour earlier, when he looked up from his lens and found himself surrounded by flame with no firefighters in sight. He was on the cell phone to his wife saying goodbye when a fire vehicle came blasting through a wall of flame and fishtailed to a stop. He said the firefighters were screaming “Get in!” He did. They were pissed. He had a police scanner and t6old me the all-clear had been given for my neighborhood but that officials were waiting for some big cheese to make the official announcement. I didn’t wait; gathered my family and went home. It was a reddish-brown twilight for days. By far the most compelling coverage of the fires in our paper were the images captured by our talented and foolhardy photogs.

    • Hi Tim. Wow that’s a pretty intense story (photographer almost dying). I found out real quick how fast those fires move! I was faced with a slightly similar, yet less dramatic situation. It’s very easy to miscalculate; thus, finding yourself in harm’s way.
      I didn’t know that you were evacuated too. Crazy. That must have been surreal. Glad to hear your house was safe.

  3. I remember those wildfires very well, Sean. I ended up writing a story on residents who were evacuated and taking shelter in a gymnasium That was an exciting time to be a journalist but a tragic time for the people who lost their homes … and lives.

    • Hi Larry. I agree, that was one part fun and one part tragic. I remember going into those gyms and having all these people asking me if their homes were still standing. The Red Cross didn’t have up to date info, so the people relied on the media the latest news on their homes. It was sad because they where in such a helpless situation.

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