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On The Front Lines Of A Wildfire

Portland-based photographer Alan Thornton said while living in dry, sun-baked New Mexico, wildfires had always fascinated him. But going out with crews to only shoot photos was limiting.

"I’ve always been interested, and did what I could do, but as a photographer, you really want to know what is it like," said Thornton. "You can’t do that sometimes as just a photographer."

So this summer, he decided instead to put his commercial photography company on hold and get red card licensed. He traded his 12-pound, professional camera and equipment for a "decent enough" point-and-shoot and shares some pictures on social media.

Thornton keeps his small camera in his line pack, and said he sometimes gets wrapped up in operations and forgets to actually take photos. So far this summer, his favorite picture came from the Stouts Creek Fire when his crew was stationed along a riverbank.

"I was able to do a photograph of the fire as it’s creeping down," he said. "I'm standing in the water, and the fire is going straight up the hillside."

Thornton started fire season at the Corner Creek wildfire, which burned nearly 30,000 acres in Central Oregon. While at the fire camp, he was reunited with the Albuquerque Zone Type 3 Incident Management team he had photographed from the sidelines. He said after an unseasonably wet summer in New Mexico, the wildland crew was sent north to fight fires in Alaska before being dispatched for burnout operations at Corner Creek.

Thornton has also assisted with efforts on the Canyon Creek Complex in eastern Oregon where 39 homes have been lost.

"Here, especially this summer, wildfires are in so many people’s backyards," said Thornton. "(Firefighters) trying to protect homes and fighting fires at the same time."

Now, Thornton is back to the Mount Adams Complex in Washington for a four- to five-day operation with Inbound LLC.

This will just be a summer job for Thornton, who will return to commercial photography and teaching in Portland and New Mexico following the end of fire season.

"It really is the access part. You’re in the middle of it. When you’re in the middle of it, it’s not hard to take a pretty cool shot," said Thornton.

<p>Photographer Alan Thornton was red card certified this summer to assist firefighting efforts and has been documenting his experience on a point-and-shoot camera. He took this photo on Mount Hood early Saturday morning after working at the Mount Adams Complex Friday.</p>

Courtesy of Alan Thornton

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Photographer Alan Thornton was red card certified this summer to assist firefighting efforts and has been documenting his experience on a point-and-shoot camera. He took this photo on Mount Hood early Saturday morning after working at the Mount Adams Complex Friday.

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Lizzy Duffy