There is a historic event happening in Texas. Many hundreds of wild fires are destroying thousands of structures and many more thousands of acres of land. These fires are not in isolated forested but in highly populated communities.
Firefighters who are responding are urban firefighters and are handicapped by the type of equipment they have, hoses which reach 150-200 feet and not 1000 feet into a forest, trucks which hold 250-1000 gallons of water and have to be refilled in a matter of minutes. They are up against fire which is spreading in all directions due to high winds and insanely dry conditions.
I had the opportunity to ride with Westlake Squad 42 and Forest Bend Engine 125 over a two day period as they battled the fires in Tri-County area of Montgomery, Waller and Grimes Counties. What I learned was enlightening. I came away humbled and honored that these men would allow me to capture them at work.
Firefighters are a unique group; they are intensely loyal and intensely private about how they do their work. They do not talk to the media, they do not want journalist taking their photos, they do their job with a high level of anonymity and they like it like that. There is an instant bond with other firefighters as they work together. There are unspoken rules and a language all their own.
These men let me into their world and it was the most amazing experience. I found them to be protective, funny, engaging and passionate about fire. They are modern day dragon slayers. The bigger the dragon the more pumped up they are. Once the dragon is down and the danger is over they take great pride in what they do. One man said “DAMN we are good! Fire within feet of those houses but nothing lost in the section” They are fearless in the field, yet in command of their every move. They communicate with each other constantly. They always know where their company is; it’s an amazing thing to witness and even more amazing to document.
While I was in the fire zone there were no major dragons to slay. However, what these men were doing was just as important as the fire they fought the night before. They were containing the fire. Going back into areas and putting out small fires (what they call hot spots & flare ups). Many times the water lines were too short to go where the fire was, so the men covered the fire with soot and soil. I was shocked at the level of heat in these areas. If I stood in one place for too long my feet would feel like they were on fire because the ground was still burning just under the ash. Trees smoldering, ground smoldering, and smoke which is so thick it is like fog. When the wind blows, ash falls from the sky like snow.
One of the reasons I believe fire fighters are so private about what they do is because most of us have no reference experience for what they do and unless you have seen and experienced their work, no words can adequately express it.
These images are but a glance into this brotherhood.
My deepest thanks goes out to all the men of Squad 42 and Engine125 – you guys are the best and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to have ridden with you.
All images are copyrighted by Francie Baltazar Stonestreet – FireHeart Photography – no image may be copied or reproduced without expressed permission.
For additional images – view the video slide show CLICK HERE