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A Siren Cuts Through Blue Hour

Team work as the fire still burns in the background

It was late in the afternoon on August 2nd 2015, me and Matthew Brown, my friend and liaison with the city of Forest Grove, were driving west towards town, the project that evening was a photo shoot of the Fire Station from where Forest Grove Fire and Rescue operates. The trucks were supposed to be clean and shinny, not just for us, firefighters are proud of their hardware upkeep when not in action. The weather report was almost perfect announcing clear lovely summer skies. I had plan a set of long exposures past sunset, deep in to blue hour.

Blue hour, is the time just after the sun gets down, when the sun is below the horizon but still lights up sky with indirect light, that light due to its angle and how it reacts with the earth's atmosphere takes on a deep blue hue. I had envisioned, that the contrast from the illumination coming out form building, and the shinny fire engines, would make some marvelous images. It is quite a classic approach.

It was all perfectly planed, we were on time heading west from Hillsboro where I met Matt. We were approaching the neighboring town of Cornelius what it might just seemed an unusual smog cloud in the distance, grew as we closed in into a a huge column of smoke west side of the town. I turn to Matt, "shot ruined" whether I could have still shot the fire house looking west with the smoke behind me, the bays would be empty, all our trucks are there, the fire was huge.

Earlier that month I had just answered a RFP for the City of Forest Grove to build a library of images for the city to use, their own gallery they could use across multiple departments, both internal and external. Out three responses, I was awarded the project in the summer of 2015.

The summer weather was supposed to be solid for weeks and the shooting was intensive, involving a quite a bit of local traveling. The project included a generous list of places, from a giant flag at the town's east side gate, beautiful hills, plentiful forests, nature reserves, a quiet downtown, the library, Pacific University, and the fire station.

Cornelius Fire

That day we had scheduled to do sunset and dusk photos, but in quite a turn of events. A wood-chip blaze had lifted huge columns of smoke, and the gravity of it involved 5 different fire districts. We were left wandering what to do. "Can you cancel the smoke screen? No special effects today!", obviously a joke. Then Matt an I, looked at each other in a "are you thinking what I am thinking?", "follow the smoke, let's take a look...".

A call was made to the proper channels, we cleared with the Fire chief office and we were clear to go in. When we got there, some fires were still visible, but very well under control. The task was to break away the piles of wood, and manage the smoke. Neighbors have been asked to stay indoors, and an advisory for people with breathing problems was in place, and they were asked to close their windows.

It took me several washes to get the smell of smoke out of my clothing, and trying not to even think the effect of all that air that might have gone through my lungs, all the wood chemicals released in the air, even as I was never directly exposed to them, it is quite an unsettling thought. The fire fighters working at the thick of it were all wearing oxygen masks and air cylinders. All measures were taken, I was never in danger, and that gallery produced afterwards was worthy every frame.

what was definitely an out of the ordinary day for me, if anything, I pride my self to always stay flexible and go with the flow, apparently in this case to this extent. But to the Firefighters of 5 different districts, just another day of work involving a fire that could be seen and smelled from many miles. It was seriously an honor to be able to witness the hard work and sacrifice of this very dedicated men.

The fire was put out, smoke dissipated, and the next day would bring sunshine again and with it another set of gorgeous evenings. Several pictures made the printed edition of the Forest Grove Times in the next edition.

Forest Grove Fire Station

And with a new lovely summer evenings, again, we were heading again west with same plan, but this time we got our blue hour shots of the fire station unopposed. The night was quiet, and as the light has almost fully left, I was getting ready to call it a night, then a crew run to one of the trucks, engines fired, and the silence of the evening broke with the sharp shout of the siren.

The truck left the bay accelerating, and it went by me. I had seconds to react, had to go from a long exposition setting to an action in natural light, brought my shutter back from 20 second long exposures, hiked the ISOs, shortened my depth of field to my 2.8 max, and burst a couple series. I was physically turning with the truck drawing a curve in which my lens was on the center, it is easy to keep up the speed and turn with the truck. That is what is called "panning". In return my truck would be sharply focused, but my background is completely in motion. Upon reviewing in my camera my night was made, "yeah, now it's a wrap".

Cornelius Fire

-Diego G. Diaz

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