Chasing and capturing images of the Slide Fire Sedona Arizona is an emotional double-edged sword. As Photographers we stand in awe of the amazing places we hike, climb, travel into and photograph in Red Rock Country. Seeing it burn at a pace that defies imagination is truly sad. We wonder if our favorite corners in the West Fork of Oak Creek are still there? Are they damaged beyond recognition? Are some only partially damaged and will recover quickly? When can we get in and find out first hand? We can also seize the opportunity to capture images that are one of a kind. Ones we hope to never see in person again in this area. We are torn in two directions. It is Terrifying Beauty.
As of this morning, May 27, 2014 fire information is:
Started: Tuesday May 20th, 2014 approx. 04:00 PM
Location: Oak Creek Canyon, North of Sedona, AZ
Total Personnel: 1,236
Size: 20,000 acres
Percent Contained: 35%
Information from Inciweb.nwcg.gov
My photographic sojourn to capture this event started at about 8pm on May 20th. 4 hours after the fire started. I drove to the Sedona Airport Overlook and took images of the red glow over the City of Sedona. The fire was at approximately 400 acres. Up from 20 when first reported. I had hope that they might get it under control overnight or early the next day. But knowing the steep canyons and walls of Oak Creek Canyon I knew it could get out of hand fast. The thing we as residents feared and hoped would never happen, a major fire.
The next evening my friend and business partner, Wib Middleton, in or commercial Small Planet Photography business, headed out at dusk to work our way up to the Schnebly Hill Overlook. The lower road was worse than I had ever seen it so we opted to drive around to the east entrance to this dirt road off of I-17. Much better. We arrived and found the view of the Slide Fire we where looking for. We spent several hours taking photos into the night with stars and fire. We kept a keen eye on the direction the fire was moving and the wind. The wind was at a our backs and the fire on the opposite side of Oak Creek Canyon. Miles from us. We got home at 2am.
The next night, Thursday, I had to rest. I was to meet up with a group of photographer friends Friday night for a marathon Fire and Meteor Shower photo trip. Friday evening arrived. Rested and ready, Scott Stulberg of asa100.com, Brian Oakley of Brian Oakley Photography and myself headed up to the Schnebly Hill Overlook again. The fire had moved off further west and had split. Glowing plumes of smoke rose dramatically into the starry night skies. We spent several hours shooting images from wide-angle to using at lens up to 600mm for dramatic closeup shots. We left this location at 9:30pm to head to Munds Park Arizona to meet another Photographer, Patrick Rapps, for the predicted Meteor shower. The meteors where mostly a no-show, but we got some great Milky Way images. Got home at 3am….
The next few days would involve dawn and sunset images and a few midday shots. On Sunday, May 25th, Scott Stulberg and I were able to drive up Oak Creek Canyon for the first time since the fire started. Wib Middleton and let me know he had done so on the 24th. We found businesses open and no damage to the canyon floor up to Slide Rock State Park. We were turned around at that point by a police checkpoint. Slide Rock State Park was a staging area for the fire fighters.
We had breakfast at Garlands. Took images of the smokey valley where you could just barely see the walls of the canyon. Air quality was definitely hazardous.
The sunset photos have been dramatic. Smoke and clouds turning red and glowing in the last light of the day. The story is far from over. We hope the back burning operations will be successful in containing the fire in the next few days. Mop up operations will go one for a long time. The investigation into who and how it started is ongoing.
Myself and my fellow photographers will continue to document this tragedy in beautiful and amazing imagery. The viewers will get a glimpse into the fire, and eventually, the devastation and recovery. We won’t stop when the fire is out. The coming years will offer us many opportunities to gather photos of the burned past and the fresh growth of today. The loss is not natures. She will paint this area with new things and create a wonderland again. It is the loss of this and the next generation or two who will not be able to enjoy this area in the same manner we have become accustom to.
Such is life.
Gallery of Images – Click to view larger versions: