Photographers and media specialists throughout California packed their gear and moved out, but were often thwarted in their attempts to get close to the fire. Certain professionals, however, succeeded.
Striker Captains Marty Greunke and Casey Zenger of West Stanislaus County Fire Department were more concerned with containing the spreading Rim Fire—the 11th largest wildfire in recent California history—than offsetting the camera, but were still nabbed in a couple pictures with a few of their cohorts.
“We were one of the few crews that had our pictures taken because we were working the line,” said Greunke, who collaborated with resources from the City of Patterson, Newman and members of Tuolumne County. “We’ve been in pictures in the L.A. Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.”
A photograph by Justin Sullivan shows one unidentified firefighter with the West Stanislaus County Fire Department monitoring the fire from the top of Patterson’s OES engine along Highway 120 near Groveland on Aug. 24. The photograph has been added to National Geographic’s environment portion, alongside other resplendent shots.
Pictures maybe worth a thousand words, but for Greunke and Zenger, there was only one word to describe the wall of fire—intense.
“It was very destructive,” said Zenger, who spent nine days in the fray. “Parts of the forest looked like you were on the moon—just ash.”
They also described seeing a plethora of melted signs, skyscraper flames and a charred building. A few of the team members took out their own phones and began to track their journey with pictures and videos as well.
“It was the best experience,” said rookie Firefighter Frank Silvia. “It was nice to see how the whole thing works. You learn about it in class, but it’s different when you actually see it happen. It makes sense and I learned a lot.”
Despite being chronicled in the largest nonprofit scientific and educational institution in the world, the team said their biggest accomplishment was containing the fire from hundreds of threatened homes and families.
Their efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the community.
“You should have seen the base,” said Greunke. “The firefighters were well taken care of. We had free haircuts given out, and Girl Scouts came by to drop off supplies for us. The level of community support was awesome. People were cheering like we were celebrities all the way from Patterson to the fire.”
“But we were just doing our job,” added Zenger.
Contact Brooke Borba at 892-6187, ext. 24, or firstname.lastname@example.org.