Wednesday, February 04, 2009

C Is For Courage

Saluting Those Who Saved Us From Bushfires

11 minutes and 01 second after 1pm, 30 January 2009

Photography sequence copyright: DAVID McMAHON


This photo sequence was shot on Friday, during the bushfires that placed our suburb under dire threat. Because the fires are sweeping so swiftly through the tinder-dry terrain, I decide to collect the youngest Authorbloglet early from school, because the campus lies directly in the path of the flames.

We are hurrying from the classroom to the car when I hear the unmistakable sound of Elvis, the Ericsson Aircrane. I still have my camera slung around my neck and so I shoot this series of frames in the short walk from the main school building to where my car stands in the campus car park.

In the first shot, look carefully on the left and you can see Elvis making an approach towards the firefront. These shots are composed very deliberately, so that no distinguishing features of the school can be seen. Amid all the noise and the urgency of the situation, it is an interesting challenge – and what you see here are uncropped shots. You see – as always – exactly what I see through my viewfinder.

Four seconds later......

11 minutes and 05 seconds after 1pm, 30 January 2009

The thick smoke is rolling in, fanned by the hot northerly wind. Up the hills in the background, you can see the shimmering silhouette of the power lines that have to be defended and protected so vigorously by CFA (Country Fire Authority) firefighters and the heli-tanker pilots alike.

This battle is not just about protecting our suburb. It is, more vitally, about ensuring that the fires which have accelerated so rapidly through the paddocks do not affect the power lines in any way. Melbourne has suffered more than enough infrastructure problems in the record-breaking heatwave and the last thing the city (and the state) needs is a loss of power on such a mammoth scale.

If the power lines are damaged or destroyed, the flow-on effect will be catastrophic.

I was lucky with this shot (above). I hit the trigger at precisely the moment the pilot of Elvis drops his load of dark-coloured fire-retardant. The Aircrane has a 9000-litre capacity and the foam – comprising water and sulphate fertiliser – has been found to be more effective than just water when fighting fires. The dark, bulbous shape you see below the heli-tanker’s airframe is the sludge-like retardant falling with pinpoint accuracy towards its target.

The Erickson Aircranes, hailed as the most versatile high-performance specialist helicopters in the world, have carved a distinguished history on Australian soil since 2001. They are sent here each southern summer and while Elvis is probably the most famous, there are actually five of the heli-tankers in this country each season. There are two based in Sydney, two in Melbourne and one in Adelaide.

Three seconds later .......

11 minutes and 08 seconds after 1pm, 30 January 2009

As you can see in the photo (above) the fire-retardant foam is still falling towards the fire below. It is a lucky series of shots, but I just happen to be in the right place at precisely the right time.

Four seconds later......

11 minutes and 12 seconds after 1pm, 30 January 2009

The chopper pilot is on his way, presumably to nearby Lysterfield Lake to refill. In the photo above, you can clearly see the boom, used for refilling the giant tank, swinging below the fuselage. The stats fascinate me, because I recently worked on a bushfire project in my full-time job as a journalist – and I know that Elvis sucks up water so rapidly that it only takes 40 seconds to fill the 9000-litre tank.

Twenty-six seconds later ......

11 minutes and 38 seconds after 1pm, 30 January 2009

The ground crews have not had time to use bulldozers to clear a fire break and the searing conditions, coupled with the gusting wind, are blowing embers ahead of the fire front. But the pilot of Elvis is the major weapon in this battle to save our suburb.

Twenty-three seconds later ......

12 minutes and 01 seconds after 1pm, 30 January 2009

The all-consuming sound of Elvis’s rotors clattering above all other sounds during the raging bushfire is a source of supreme comfort. The next two hours are vital in the ground battle and the aerial tactics to save the streets and homes where we live.

It is exactly 60 seconds between my first shot and my last. We get into the car and drive away from the fires. The battle rages for hours as new fire fronts emerge and are collectively quelled.

On this dramatic day, when our community comes so close to mortal danger, there is still smoke in the air and there are still flames on the ground when darkness falls. But this time, the human element has triumphed over the raw, fearsome power of Nature.

Tonight, we sleep in our own beds because of the heroism of firefighters we will never meet and never be able to thank personally. But I want them, all of them, to know just how much we owe them.

For the home of ABC Wednesday, go to Mrs Nesbitt's Place.

54 comments:

jinksy said...

Totally gripping photos and blog - may the 'copters continue to do their marvelous work to save you, yours and everyone else threatened by such an insidious enemy.

Barbaloot said...

Phenomenal photos. Glad to hear your family is safe and hope it continues to be so.

Maybe you should send your blog address over to the firestation---so they can see how truly grateful you are:)

GreenJello said...

David, you have a knack of being in the right place at the right time for the right shots. :)

The photos were amazing, but the story even more so.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Great pictures, David, and they are very courageous indeed. I feel that way about the Hurricane Hunters (my cousin being one of them) who try and warn us of impending danger from storms. These foks have my admiration, for sure!

Glad you're safe...

Sheila

Moannie said...

Great shots of some wonderfully courageous men at their daily work. So grateful you are ok.

Jack and Joann said...

Well, holy smokes what a story and what great shots of the fire fight. Why is the plane called Elvis of all things? I'm glad that you rescued all your little authorblogets!

Isn't it amazing to come each week here and learn what has transpired the previous week in bloggers' lives. Sometimes it is truly newsworthy events.

Pat - An Arkansas Stamper said...

Wonderful report and photos, David. It's nice to read a tribute to those who are so often overlooked, even though they play a major role in insuring our safety and well-being.

On a lighter note, Elvis looks very much like a dragonfly, but in this case, the "dragon" is putting out fires, not breathing more flames.

George said...

What a great tribute to all the fire-fighting crews. The pictures are as dramatic as the story. I'm glad all are safe and I hope you continue to be that way.

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

Thinking of you David - So glad that your community is safe. It is hard to imagine how hot it is there with all the snowstorms in other parts of the world. These firefighters truly are heroes as they risk their own lives. I hope cooler weather is heading your way.
Best wishes,
Catherine

ArneA said...

Every time I think of fire fighters I return to the 9.11 and the courage many of them showed in the minutes befor the twin towers collapsed
We, ordinary people, need them all over the world

quilly said...

Summer 2007 we had a bush fire come within 400 yards of our house. There were 11 fire trucks and two firefighting helicopters between us and the blaze. I just might know how you feel.

Fat, frumpy and fifty... said...

Really great shots there David...


http://donmillsdiva.blogspot.com/

There are some rumblings going on in blog land, you may not know about...or you might... regarding journo's comments about bloggers ruining the art of journalism.

joan said...

Amazing shots and story David. Hope everyone is safe in your part of the world and you get some relief soon

Crystal Jigsaw said...

How terrifying to see that helicopter so close to the flames. Such bravery.

CJ xx

katherine. said...

an amazing machine....and wonderfully brave men and women who fight fires. I join with your other readers being happy that you and your community are safe.

I do find myself wondering about your son...laughing...did he proceed to the car to get it started for a fast getaway? Did he stand next to you, sharing the drama unfolding, suggesting appropriate shots? Did he express the resigned combination of amusement/exasperation/appreciation of yet another photo op? smile.

RuneE said...

That was reporting On The Spot!

Glad you made it!!

Lene said...

Wow. Real heroes!!! Great pictures, and amazing post!

JoAnn's-D-Eyes said...

wow david,
I am really impressed by this action photography, awsome , welldone!

CURIOUS for my C? Here is mine: www.joannwalraven.blogspot.com
Greetings from JoAnn/Holland

ellen b said...

Oh now that's really too close for comfort! I'm so glad your courageous firefighters prevailed and that your community is safe once again. Fires are so scary. My nephews college had a wildfire come onto campus. They were all evacuated to the gymnasium which was built to be fireproof and just watched the fire burn some buildings on campus. The room above my nephews room was destroyed but his was spared. 14 faculty homes were destroyed. They are still recovering from it...
Glad you and your family are safe...

Akelamalu said...

Fantastic high drama shots David! All hail the unsung heroes!

Twisted Fencepost said...

Fantastic series shots and the narration to go along with.
I am glad all is well in your corner of the world once again!

Fotosekken said...

Amazing photos of the heroes of courage. What are we to do without them?

photowannabe said...

Breathtaking photos. You had me holding my breath as I went through each shot.
the firefighters are most certainly courageous.

Maggie May said...

Thank Goodness that is over! The human effort involved is phenomenal. Good for Elvis.
What a worry. Hope there are no more scares like that.

Strange we should both post about helicopters in the same week!
However mine was not dramatic....... yours was.

spacedlaw said...

These are amazing shots, David, and I am glad that you guys were safe.

naturglede said...

Greate photoes ofg a sad moment. Glad you are all right. Have a fun abc:)

cheshire wife said...

Incredible photos! I can almost smell the smoke. Far more dramatic than the dusting of snow which we have at present and far more life threatening. Glad you have lived to tell the tale.

Tiaras and Tantrums said...

. . . utterly amazing . . . quite distressing to say the least . . .

Rinkly Rimes said...

What a wonderful series of pictures! We think 'your' weather is on the way up to us (NSW) so we'll be thankful for the firefighters' courage ourselves, no doubt.

Lynda Lehmann said...

A well written account, Dave. I had heard about the fires on the news. Fire is so frightening, when it rages out of control. Yet calming and hypnotic on the hearth...

But that's another story altogether. I'm glad they're extingusished and you're safe!

starnitesky said...

Very dramatic photographs, I hope you and your family stay safe.

Babooshka said...

This is real photo jourmalism. Scary. I am caught between the envy of the images and not being so envious of the close proximity to such an event.

Mary @ Annie's Goat Hill said...

Both amazing and breathtaking. I cannot imagine the fear, but I am sure those working Elvis were driven by what they do best. Glad you are okay.

mountain.mama said...

We live in fire country and have had the bombers fly over and the helicopters and the fear of evacuation. Pretty exciting stuff. Great shots of the people we can thank for working so hard to protect those things near and dear to us.

mrsnesbitt said...

David.........................speechless here.
Hugs to your family.all safe.
Dxxxxxxxxxxx

Tumblewords: said...

An excellent series of photos as well as an interesting narrative of the heliocopter and drama. Excellent!

Charles Gramlich said...

Awesome pictures. Fire is so terrifying. And yes, I'm glad we have brave souls to fight them.

Woman in a Window said...

Wow, scarey stuff and amazing coverage. Glad it all turned out alright in the end.

Leslie: said...

AMAZING shots and kudos to those who risk their lives for others! Wonderful post.

Sorry I haven't been around but you know what I've been going through, so I know you'll understand.

Sylvia K said...

Incredible photos, David, so glad you and your family are safe, thanks to those wonderful firefighters!

Bradley said...

You show us the skill of a professional journalist. Griping series of photos and story. I could not take my eyes off from the computer screen till the end of the story. Thankfully, you are all save.

Poutalicious said...

It tickled me that the heli-tankers have names and this one is "Elvis." Sounds like there is a story behind the name. I will be very relieved when it finally rains there.

Lily Hydrangea said...

a touching tribute for your brave firemen. & a great post for today's letter C!

Paula Scott said...

Whew! Great shots. I'm still processing that tidbit about sucking up 9,000 liters in 40 seconds (I think that's what you said).

SAPhotographs (Joan) said...

These men and women are definitely our unsung hero's who we tend to ignore until we really need them. A wonderful doucmentary David. I am glad it did not have disasterous results.

Louise said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Louise said...

This is an amazing photo series. I am sure I do not know anyone else who would have captured so much so well. There had to be lots of adrenaline, and no cropping needed it just amazing. You just have it in your blood!

I love these helicopters, but have never seen them in action. There are one (or more?) based a few miles from us, so they fly over frequently, but on the way to somewhere else.

I cannot imagine the courage it takes to fight a fire in such a way.

Tyra in Vaxholm said...

Great and very exciting photo suite/ Tyra

Life with Kaishon said...

Firefighters are amazing, aren't they? What a great series of pictures.

Tessa said...

A true photo-journalist. Bravo.

Janie said...

Thank goodness for Elvis and the firefighters. you really brought us into the action with your amazing photos. so glad the fire's out and you and your family are safe.

Tranquility said...

My goodness... these fires are so intense! Glad you all are hanging in there and staying safe!

CrazyCath said...

A fantastic post. Not just the the photos, which are so beautifully framed and the sequence executed perfectly; not the narrative keeping us gripped to the story to its bitter end; it's the thanks that are due to the men and women that are keeping everyone (and everything) as safe as they possibly can.

Every credit to them - and to you for telling us about it.

Sarah S. said...

Wow what an amazing post! I can not imagine going through something like that! Incredible photos too.

Thinking of you and praying for all in Australia.