DOINews: News from the Fire Line: A Photographer's Perspective of the Beaver Creek Fire

Last edited 09/05/2019

A lighting strike northwest of Hailey, Idaho, in August sparked a fire that would burn for almost a month. Fire crew personnel would grow to more than 1,700, and 111,490 acres would burn. Residents evacuated their homes; the hospital evacuated patients; the animal shelter relocated its animals. No lives were lost, but a few structures and one home could not be saved.

Fire helicopter drops fluid near community hospital

I arrived at the Beaver Creek Fire camp north of Hailey 10 days after the fire started. Navigating my way through the camp built of yurts (collapsible tents), I found the yurt housing the public information office, and it was abuzz. Twenty-eight public information officers were providing maps and incident reports for fire crews, arranging media tours for national media to local publications and answering phone calls from the media and residents about the fire and evacuations. Daily, these PIO's would fan out into the community — setting up bulletin boards (trap lines) with updated information, visiting local businesses and talking to residents. The PIO office not only served as an information source for the news media but also housed the lost-and-found box, picked up and delivered the mail for fire personnel and updated the fire-camp boards with local and regional newspapers for personnel.

Using my camera, I was able to document the hard work of wildland fire personnel on the fire line to the overhead that makes an incident like this run as smoothly as possible.

Fire helicopter drops fluid over fire in the mountains

Firefighters work as a team on the ground

I also learned about the power of teamwork by living in the camp and sleeping in tents; eating alongside fire fighters who have been on the fire line; and listening to the stories of local, state and federal agencies working together.

Fire camp with tents

As I walked around town wearing fire-retardant yellow and green Nomex clothes, I also learned about gratitude as residents reached out, offered their hands or pulled me in for a hug to thank the wildland fire crews for saving their community. What an experience to feel the compassion that residents have towards fire crews from across the country. While I was not out on the fire line in the heat of the blaze, I learned that part of a PIO's job is to pass this gratitude on to the men and women who work 15 hour days on the fire.

Firefighters on the line at Beaver Creek

Close up of firefighter

After 14 days on assignment, I departed the Sun Valley, Ketchum communities to return to Washington, D.C. As I was driving out of town, I spotted signs at every street corner, thanking the wildland fire community. This experience, I will always hold close. I'm grateful to have been able to see, touch and be a part of our wildland firefighter's response to this incident that affected so many people.

Story and photos by Tami A. Heilemann, Department of the Interior photographer

Sept. 24, 2013

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