Sunday, May 20, 2018

We just followed the smoke....

My dad and I were driving along the shore of Lake Superior just outside Ashland Wisconsin when we noticed a big plume of white smoke rising into the sky several miles to the west. He said there was a prescribed burn about fifteen miles away.

I told him I always wanted to get forest fire photos, but never had the chance. I asked if he had time to go and he said sure. I had a camera in the car and my dad as a navigator so we started driving west on highway 2. The smoke was just whitish gray at the time, not the striking orange and red as in the image above. 

We drove about twelve miles west and turned on the only paved road going north through the Moquah barrens in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. We just kept following the smoke and after several more miles we came to a dirt road going west towards the fire.

It was almost sunset as we came to an intersection with another dirt road. Ahead of us was a flurry of activity, many vehicles from various federal agencies with lights on and fire crews in their trucks and walking the roads. A woman in a vest was standing in the middle of the road so I pulled over and parked out of the way. We walked up to visit with her. 

Our timing was great, because this was what we saw just across the road in front of us.

Fire crews had just ignited the blaze and the fire was quickly burning through the under story and up into some of the larger pine trees. 

We quickly got permission to be where we were and I just couldn't believe my luck.

I got my camera out and started photographing the forest fire in front of us. Flames were moving quickly through dried grass and shrubs and then climbing into the bigger trees.

All the colors and interplay of light and shadow was unbelievably beautiful. As I continued to trip the shutter release, I found myself saying "wow" over and over again out loud.

The Fish & Wildlife, or forest Service employee said we had to stay where we were as the fire moved away. I had been shooting hand held, but went to the car to get a tripod as it was getting dark and the shutter speeds were getting slow. 

I checked the ISO, made sure the auto focus was off, put the camera on the tripod and kept at it.

Trees that had been aflame moments earlier were now starkly silhouetted as the fire itself threw colorful light onto the smoke billowing towards the sky.

I just couldn't get over the mixture of light, color, and shadow. Just beautiful.

As the actual flames moved into the distance I noticed the surreal colors on the smoke above.

Some of the crews walked back towards their vehicles before driving off along the edge of the fire.

I kept on shooting and even remembered to look at the bigger picture. The colors were hard to believe.

We stayed for an hour and a half and it was dark as we turned the car around and headed out on the road we had come in on.

About a half mile down the road I stopped to capture this scene giving a sense of scale to the fire. 

The old adage, 'it's better to be lucky, than good' certainly applied here. My dad and I just followed the smoke, 

and had incredibly good luck, as far as location, timing, and fire personnel. What a night.