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Photographing the summer of wildfire in 2002

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The Hayman Fire in its early stages photographed from the Pikes Peak Highway. - SEAN CAYTON
  • Sean Cayton
  • The Hayman Fire in its early stages photographed from the Pikes Peak Highway.
Before the Waldo Canyon Fire and Black Forest Fire, 2002 was the summer of wildfire in Colorado. That season brought the Iron Mountain Fire, Schoonover Fire and the Hayman fires, among others. The Hayman Fire remains the the largest wildfire in Colorado state history.

As a journalist, covering wildfires is just plain hard work. Driving to locations was difficult, not to mention accessing an area with an active wildfire. Local fire officials almost never allow you in and federal wildfire management teams aren’t much better.

Unless the wildfire is contained or put out quickley, you have to work for days and sometimes weeks on end.

Then there is the problem of scale. Unless you're photographing things from the air, it’s virtually impossible to photograph a natural disaster like a wildfire and capture the sheer size of the destruction it brings with it in one image.

That summer was the first year I began using a digital camera for journalism assignments. Unlike my film cameras, I didn’t have to process and scan film to send off to the newspaper. I could take a nearly limitless number of photographs.

I used that to my advantage when covering the wildfires — making a series of pictures and stitching them together as panoramas. While these pictures never got published by the newspapers I was shooting for, I liked the results.

The panoramas, I think, help to convey the size of these natural disasters and the devastation they can bring to an area.

It's always a waiting game every summer to see how dry it will get. Here's hoping this summer doesn't get like 2002 and I won't need to photograph the destruction that an out-of-control wildfire can bring.
Sean Cayton is a wedding photojournalist of 19 years and operates a successful, award-winning wedding photography studio in Colorado Springs. He's also an award-winning photojournalist. Sean is happily married to the love of his life (also his business partner) and is father to three beautiful children. When he’s not working, Sean can be found outside flying kites with his kids, hitting golf balls or casting a fly rod to hungry trout.

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