The Taylor Bridge fire east of Cle Elum is all but wrapped up – the fire which started Aug. 13 burned 23,000 acres and burned a number of homes.
Photographers from a number of news outlets, including the Yakima Herald-Republic, Seattle Times, Ellensburg Daily Record and the Associated Press covered the fire. You can see the photographs here. You’ll see lots of great photography. But what you won’t see are any photos of firefighters fighting fires.
That’s because firefighting officials closed off all access to the fire soon after the fire started. Photographers from the Seattle Times and Associated Press were able to get into one area near the fire soon after it started but that area was soon closed as well. Those photographers got some great photos, despite the closure efforts. Only one road was left unguarded (I am not sure if it was an oversight or not) and so we were able to get at least somewhat close to the fire and firefighters doing some work. Not much work, but at least some.
I know there’s more to forest fires than just people fighting fires. There is destruction to homes, forests and sometimes, loss of life. There are volunteer efforts, firefighter support and so on. All of which deserve coverage, both through images and words.
But the firefighting efforts and the firefighters themselves are a crucial part of the picture. But because of restrictions by authorities we are not able to provide that part of the picture to our readers and viewers.
Promises are made each fire season to get media to the fire lines as soon as possible. Those promises are usually never fulfilled. At the Taylor Bridge fire media were led on a couple of choreographed tours which kept the media well away from the fire lines and property destruction. The photos and video from those tours hardly served to inform people of the firefighting efforts.
Fire officials cite our safety as their main concern for keeping us away from the fire lines. However, by closing off all access we are forced to try and sneak around the closures and find alternate ways to the fire lines. This back-door approach can be much more dangerous than an escorted trip to the fire lines.
Perhaps fire officials will someday learn the value of informing the public of their firefighting efforts and allow us on to (or, at least closer) the fire lines. But I am not optimistic they will.