These are photographs I took during and after the April 22nd wildfire that reduced most of the Council Bluffs riverfront between the Veterans Memorial Bridge (South Omaha Bridge) and the Western Historic Trails Center to smoldering stumps and vast fields of white ash, fueled by strong wind, dead vegetation, and fallen timber that had been killed years ago by flooding of the Missouri River. Of course, the trees that were still standing after the fire appeared to be mostly alive judging from their fine branches and intact bark (dead and dying trees lose these over time). Even so, most of the standing trees were charred, more so toward the ground than up high.
In hindsight, I realize the poor judgment I exercised by entering the area the morning after the fire had been mostly contained. But curiosity doesn’t kill every cat, so I kept hiking farther and farther into the smoking woods long after my better judgment gave up on me. What I found upon arriving was a scorched scene not unlike that of the Yellowstone geyser basins we visited years ago, the place that truly sparked my interest in photography. Except that the heat from the fire was, at times, overwhelming and seemed to radiate from inconspicuous places along the path—a bed of underground coals where once lay a system of roots over here, a patch of white ash concealing a massive bed of embers over there. Unlike Yellowstone, there was no raised boardwalk trail to guide one from harm’s way, and I realized after I should have how easily a weakened tree, guts still afire, could have fallen on me. Indeed, I heard several fall in the distance while I was taking these photographs, and another landed with a tremendous thud not 50 yards away from me just before I decided to leave.
In these photographs, what looks like fog is smoke, smoke so dense that it made my eyes water continuously. When the wind died down, it was stifling, and when the wind picked up again, it was nearly unbearable until it had a chance to thin out. As of this writing, eleven days later, I can still smell the smoke on my camera and all the clothes I wore that morning, even though they’ve all been through the laundry.
I ask one favor before I go. If you have the means, please view these on a screen larger than a cell phone, at least the panoramas. Each was assembled from multiple frames and could be printed large enough to be a mural, so the thought of it appearing as a thin slice of pixels across a 5-inch screen is depressing.
And if you know anybody who might find these photographs interesting, please share them.