In May, a string of wildfires rocked San Diego County, CA. The blazes came in the middle of California’s wildfire season, destroying thousands of acres of land, evacuating many residents, and even forcing California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency. San Diego-based photojournalist Sam Hodgson, who is no stranger to covering spot news, got word of the initial fire, he knew he was prepared to document the situation. But what he thought would just be an afternoon assignment quickly turned into four long days covering the fires across the county.
All spot news assignments come with a different set of challenges for photographers. Sam had experience covering wildfires already, so he knew how quickly the fires move. On day three of the assignment, things were starting to settle down and the fire looked like it was just smoldering. Sam was out photographing burnt-out homes on top of a hill when he looked up to see a cloud of thick black smoke billowing towards him. He was able to run to a nearby side street to escape the blaze that quickly enveloped the hill he was just standing on, but the close call was a reminder of how important safety is when covering natural disasters:
In situations like this, I just try to remain calm, trust my instincts and listen to any instructions the first responders give me. I also made sure to keep in touch with my editor who ensured that I had routes to safety if the situation were to deteriorate.
Different outlets such as the New York Times and Time.com quickly picked up the photos and spread them throughout the world, but it was the local impact that was most important to Sam:
I heard from quite a few firefighters and local community members who saw the images and thanked me for capturing what it really felt like. No matter what I’m shooting, that’s always my goal: to capture a feeling.