Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Reliance Fire

Ah, breaking news. The big one. It can bring out the best in a news operation. Yesterday I was traveling on I-75 with Alexis Means, headed to Cedar Point to do an interview about why media day was being cancelled. Not the most exciting story but as Chris mentions in his blog, the beast must be fed. Around Phillips Ave., we saw the large plume of black smoke north of us. Trying to get out of a trip to Sandusky, I called the station to let them know what I was seeing. Jenny assured me that they were trying to find a photographer to send. No luck. Alexis called shortly after, and by then the powers that be started to realize the magnitude of what was unfolding. I’ve been doing this job for five years, and when I arrived on the scene, I was impressed with this fire. We parked along LaVoy road. As soon as I opened my door, I could hear the propane cylinders exploding.

After 10 minutes of shooting, I hiked down the road to meet Jason, our live truck operator. Before I could even get my video sent back to the station, fire officials came over to tell us that they were extending the perimeter and we would need to move. Down comes the mast (that’s the big metal pole you see sticking up in the air coming up from news vans). We moved about 200 yards down the street and started to set up again.

I’m now separated from my own Jeep, parked down the road on the other side of the Reliance property. While Jason tries again, I jump out and start shooting more video. More explosions. Closer explosions. “We need you guys to move all the way back to Telegraph.” Recognizing the pattern, Jason and I head to Telegraph and make a right and head down the road to an overpass. Surely we’re now far enough away. Jason starts to put the mast up. Zach Ottenstein and photographer Chris Henderson have now joined us. I put my camera on my tripod and Zach stood in front of the camera ready to go live. I hear in my earpiece Lee Conklin say, “Zach Ottenstein is on the scene with more.” Then, a voice from behind says, “We need to extend the perimeter to a mile and a half.” Yeah, we had to move again.

Now imagine trying to find a spot a mile and a half from where the action is actually happening. Not very easy. Jason saw a farmer’s lane and headed down it into the middle of a field. Believe it or not we actually had a clear shot to the fire. Even better, the gentleman who owned the property I was now standing on had agreed to let us use his property. So at this time I need to send out my first thanks to Mr. Trabbic of E. Sterns Road in Erie (who by the way has corn and pumpkin mazes, pony rides, fall decorations and hay rides available on the weekends in the fall – call (734) 848-4049 this fall for more information).We did live hits for the next three hours.

In my Jeep, I keep supplies like raingear, coats, hats, snacks and water. That’s a mile and a half away from us now. I’m from the area and I’m used to the weather, but anyway you slice it, it was hot yesterday. And again – in the middle of a field, supplies are in my Jeep – no water. This is where my second thank you goes out. Zach’s friends, Dave and Mary Liske of Luna Pier, were lifesavers. Not only did they bring us bottled water, they brought us three cases of bottled water and a cooler filled with ice. Dave and Mary, thank you.

I got home around eight o’clock. It took a little longer than it should have because I had to hike back down LaVoy to get my Jeep. Yesterday was really a remarkable day. Such a huge fire in its explosiveness and its size and amazingly there was no loss of life.

Before I go, I have to send out a final thank you to Jason our truck op. Jason had to set up and tear down four times in a matter of half an hour (almost unheard of), and he did it all keeping his cool and professionalism. Breaking news, it can bring out the best in a news operation.


Anonymous said...

OK, you're a Billau, me too!! I'm Harriet Billau from England!! Hi!

Dave Liske said...

Our side of it, the story of how we chased y'all down that night, is now posted at:

We'll probably see you again!