Pete McBride Shot These Wildfire Photos from His Porch

11 Jul

Photo Gallery: Pete McBride Shot These Wildfire Photos from His Porch

July 3rd, 5:30 PM: A friend texts me that there is a “fire close to your home.” I race to Basalt and see billowing smoke from the nearby shooting range. Two helicopters are already working the fire dropping water via slurry pods from nearby Lake Christine. We are amazed to learn that despite the level two fire restrictions (no fires, no fireworks, no nothing) our state-managed shooting range remained open despite calls to close from the town and the fire department.
July 3rd: 8:30 P.M. At dusk, the helicopters cease operation due to flight curfews as a few stubborn flames lick a far ridge. All the neighbors on my street gather on the west end discussing what to do. Some are in tears, others are already packing up, but most feel confident that the light easterly wind is favorable and we should be safe. I stay in communication via text with neighbors who take turns keeping watch throughout the night. We all know the hill above us is a juniper tinderbox.
July 4th: 11:30 AM: A white haze hangs over our town and the drone of helicopters start up again. It appears that the wind remained light and favorable throughout the night and the fire is under control. Regardless, no one is willing to leave their homes to attend Fourth of July celebrations. At 1:15 PM, the wind shifts. Black smoke billows above us and then flames crest the ridge. A rattled police officer drives down the street telling us evacuation is imminent.
July 4th, 4:45: PM: After loading what I can into my truck (art, photos, a table I built by hand), two friends show up panting, ready to help. “We have to go now,” they say. Slurry bombers join the helicopters create an aerial ballet above town taking turns dropping red fire retardant just above us. We watch from my front door, mesmerized as first crop-dusters do their runs, then twin engines planes and even jets ending with a DC-10 (Photo), strafing just a few hundred feet over my neighbors rooftops to the north.
July 4th: 7:30 PM: My friends drive my belongings to their home and I stay back, reluctant to leave my 120-year-old abode, fearing it may be the last I see it and the 80,000 images (the backbone of my archive from twenty years working as a photographer for Outside and National Geographic and others), that I left in the basement. I curse myself that I didn’t back it up better. Mandatory evacuation goes into affect across old town Basalt and I watch with neighbors from the town park as 200-foot flames roar down the hill. A Chinook helicopter now takes over flying laps to the Roaring Fork River and back to the flames – dropping water and river mud (low river level) directly on the flames. We marvel at the precision of flying and effectiveness of the drops.
July 4th: 11:30 PM: The wind changes again. Just as we thought the old section of town might be at risk, the fire moves to the West, jumps a ridge and moving toward the highway and the commercial core near El Jebel. Sirens wail and people are evacuated with little notice. The entire hill behind town is aglow with flames and an ember storm. Reports say it is over 3,000 acres and 0% contained. Local fire crews on the ground hold their line to save a trailer park, but the town looks beyond protection.
July 5th: 8:30 AM: After a sleepless night for many, Basalt is a ghost town but somehow, it is still standing. Smoke and ash hang over everything and mountain above is decimated. The fire continues un-contained up high to the north. Firefighters, hotshots and first responder vehicles are the only on the road. No one is allowed back to their homes. The few residents I encounter look like walking zombies caught between shock, disbelief and frustration. We learn the fire started by two locals using illegal tracer bullets at the fire range. Everyone questions why the range was open at all. The Lake Christine Fire is now over 5000 acres and still 0% contained. It will continue for the foreseeable future, and amazingly, thanks to the efforts of the community and bravery of a few, so will the town. For many communities across the southwest, this is just the beginning of fire season. There are TK fires/ acres burning across the West. As temperatures get hotter and conditions dryer thanks to an changing climate, scenes like these will become only more common.