The San Diego Fires

I’ve struggled with this post, because I don’t know how to begin. My mind is racing, but the words are not flowing in a way that articulates how I’m feeling. Bear with me, please. I am angry. I am sad. I am frustrated. I’m disheartened by people who use the misfortune of others to prosper.

This week has been a tough one for me. Regardless of where you live in the world, it’s highly likely you are aware of the numerous fires in the San Diego area. Our first responders and firefighters are true heroes, working day and night to get this nightmare under control. My heart is aching for every one of those people displaced from their homes and for those who are threatened. It hits me so hard…

Two and a half years ago, I was trapped in an Alarm 2 fire. I had temporarily moved in with my ex-boyfriend since I was waiting on moving into a new building. The neighbor below started a fire and it was too late for me to get out, though I tried. I had been there for no more than five minutes after arriving from a fun evening with co-workers. In an instant, my life changed and I lost almost everything I owned. 
All photos taken from San Diego NBC 7:

Today is the first time I’ve really looked at these pictures. I have a very hard time reading and hearing any stories that have to do with fires. I try not to think about that night because it is very painful to relive. I focus very hard on living a happy, quality life and I don’t like to dwell on what happened.
Yet, there are dozens of fires in our area and I can’t help but remember; remember that I broke a kitchen window wondering if I could make a five story jump onto cement, remember feeling my way back into an apartment because the hallway was pitch black and full of smoke; remember my ex’s size 14 flip-flops on my feet melting into the ground, remember I begged the 911 operator for the firemen to give me a ladder. I didn’t realize there was no way I could descend a ladder without going through the flames. 
I also remember when Bob Jones the fireman who carried me out of that building broke down the door. The reflection of his fire suit caught my eye. I ran from the kitchen and he grabbed my wrist. Through the smoke I could see his eyes and I knew I would be okay. He carried me out over his shoulder. It is my understanding 53 seconds later the ceiling and floor collapsed. I have not met him yet. I shake my head wondering how that is possible. I wonder what I’d say. What type of gift I could bring a man who saved my life, though I know he doesn’t expect it. Nor does he expect a thanks for doing his job. He doesn’t even know what a hero he is to me, to my family; to everyone I Love. I don’t know what’s kept me from reaching out. I just know it’s high time.
I write none of this for dramatic effect. That’s just the reality of fire. It was physically one of the most difficult things I’ve endured. I was admitted to the SICU and though my lungs sustained damage due to smoke inhalation, I had no skin burns. I was a lucky one.
And of course, out of misfortune comes those who just don’t get it. 
I wrote a self-proclaimed photographer. He was there that night and took photos. I asked if I may use his photos on the blog giving him full credit, of course. His reply:

Ms. Wilson,

Photography is my living. I cannot allow the direct use of any images without payment.

You may use something like this in your article. … A statement, in your own words that caries [sic] this meaning, “xxx shot some images of the Fire, and here is a direct link to the images in his gallery.”
In a word, I am disgusted that he would try to exploit such a horrible event for his own personal gain. He then copied and pasted all of our emails and put them on his closed Facebook page. After requesting he cease contact, and him agreeing, he then antagonized an already sensitive situation through Twitter.

Whether he is an artist who deserves to be paid for crooked, pixelated photos is a matter of personal opinion. Bottom line, if you take photos of a tragedy that directly affects someone and then try to charge them for it, you are a despicable person in my book. I don’t care if you’re freakin’ Herb Ritts. Your opinion may be different and that is fine. As someone who once shot film to pay the bills and with close friends who are amazing photographers, I would never try to take advantage or get a “freebie” from a truly talented artist who deserves to be paid for his or her work. A few shots that came off a Flickr account? Again, I suppose that’s a matter of opinion, too.

Oh well, Heather. Build a bridge and get over it…

Sadly, there are suspicions that some of these fires have been intentionally set. I hope otherwise, but it seems impossible for nature to have taken this pattern. It is too soon for investigators to tell, and the priority is on making sure everyone is safe and putting the fires out.

Everyone, I ask that you keep the residents of San Diego and our firefighters in your thoughts. And for those who want do nothing more than exploit the misfortune of others – do us a favor – put your bad intentions and your cameras away.