Learning Experiences

At the end of March, I covered my first fire and wrote about my experience on the Valley News' Valley Visual blog. Here is what I wrote.

(All photos are Copyright 2015 - Valley News)

I had just settled in to watch one more episode of Gilmore Girls before going to bed Saturday night when I got the call from the editor of our Sunday paper.

There is a fire at a lumberyard in Fairlee. It’s big. We need you to cover it.

I flew into action, changing out of my sweatpants, throwing on warm layers, all with adrenaline pumping in my veins. Just a few hours earlier, one of my coworkers listened as I complained about not getting the opportunity to cover any of the fires that have swept through the Upper Valley this winter.

Now it was my turn, and I was practically giddy with excitement.

Hopping into my car, I sped north from Hartford on Interstate 91 to Britton Lumber Company, not quite sure what to expect.

More than 20 fire trucks zipped along Route 5 to bring water to the scene. The fire was huge, consuming the entire length of the 250-foot-long sawmill. It was an inherently visual situation, with firefighters climbing the ladder trucks with hoses to try to control the flames. After taking hundreds of photos, I emailed my favorites to the newsroom from the parking lot of the Fairlee Public Library, which luckily had a wifi connection, and headed home.

Mission complete… or so I thought.

Fires are flashy. They are one of the “sexy” assignments that young photojournalists pine for on slow news days. It’s pretty easy to make interesting photos when a building is engulfed in flames.

But what I learned this past weekend is the fire itself isn’t the entire story.

The real story is the people harmed by the fire.

I got the opportunity to go back to the sawmill on Sunday and cover the aftermath. A steady stream of employees and community members visited the site to see the rubble for themselves.

I met Tom Fulton, the sawmill dry kiln manager, who wandered the wreckage with tears in his eyes. The Fairlee native has worked in the sawmill for 16 years. “I was planning to retire in December,” he said. “But the 20 guys that work here, they’re the real casualty. This is just steel and wood.”

It’s still unknown what the future holds for the sawmill employees.

I’m glad I got to go back to the sawmill. Because the raging flames don’t tell the whole story; people do.