Burning umbrellas, 2004

Firefighters aim their hoses into a burning building at the scene of a five-alarm fire in the Old City section of Philadelphia in 2004.

A friend just reminded me that several news photographers were at the Pen and Pencil Club for a photojournalism event when this incident broke out and I was among those who left to rush to the scene.

I also remember that Philadelphia Daily News photographer Elwood P. Smith, who was in his 80s at the time, beat me to the scene, back to the office and into the next day’s paper.

Whenever I see old signs on a burning building, I think about Weegee’s “Simply add boiling water,” and this is the closest I have come to catching something similar.

Date: 1/7/04, Time: 11:51:00 p.m., Shutter: 1/13, f: 4.0, ISO: 1600, Lens 80mm

Through the roof, 2003

Flames rage from the top of an apartment building in the Washington Square West section of Center City Philadelphia in 2003.

The six-alarm fire also seriously damaged several of the homes seen at right before it was bought under control.

Coincidentally, I moved onto the same block just a few years later and have since taken many photos from the same rooftop I used to get this view.

Date: 08/06/03, Time: 2:18:54 AM, Shutter: 1/8, f: 2.8, ISO: 1000, Lens: 17mm, Philadelphia, PA, US

Wall of fire, 1985

Firefighters spray foam toward a gasoline tanker truck that overturned and caught fire on Route 128 in Peabody, Mass., in 1985.

Traffic was gridlocked and I had to get upwind to get this shot. So, I found my way along back roads to the next exit and drove the wrong way up the highway, since oncoming traffic was completely blocked.

This was long before we had GPS units, but I picked up directions from my police scanner, since emergency crews were taking the same route.

Searching for details online just now, I found this incredibly detailed narrative which recounts everything I can recall and much more: A Commuters Nightmare.

Finally, I don’t boast much, and maybe I just got lucky, but capturing this scene on film was no simple task. The blazing bright fire was the only light source in the dark of night, since the emergency vehicles were parked at significant distance from the wreck.

So, I kept firing my Vivitar 285 strobe at different settings as I took pictures — hoping one attempt would illuminate the foreground figures just enough — while simultaneously trying to catch an interesting moment. This was the only frame that came out just right.

Great ball of fire, 1996

Gas workers gather at the scene after a line was ruptured and fumes ignited on Walnut Street near 20th, on the edge of Rittenhouse Square in the Center City section of Philadelphia in 1996.

Below, a Philadelphia firefighter hoses down stained-glass windows on the side of the Church of the Holy Trinity, out of concern that heat from the flames could have melted the lead holding them together.