Valley News -

By Kim Harris
Managing Editor 

Battle on Point Shore Drive gives photographer a unique view into firefighters' assault against the Holy Fire

 

Last updated 8/14/2018 at 10:18am

Shane Gibson

A large patch of dry brush along the ridge of a neighborhood above McVicker Canyon explodes into flames during the Holy Fire in Lake Elsinore, Aug. 9. A trio of Cal Fire firefighters from San Luis Obispo quickly extinguished the flames and ended the threat to homes at the east end of Point Shore Dr.

Valley News Staff Photographer Shane Gibson has spent countless hours covering the Holy Fire which was first reported to officials Aug. 6. Since the fire made its way into Riverside County threatening homes and structures in Lake Elsinore, Gibson made his way into the mountainous terrain where he has witnessed everything from fire retardant drops to mass evacuations of entire neighborhoods.

Every day as Gibson filed his photos for publication, words such as "insane" and "radical" were used to describe what was happening in the community as firefighters struggled against high temperatures, low humidity and treacherous terrain to save people and property from becoming a casualty of the fast-moving wildfire, which officials suspect was ignited on purpose.

Gibson has spent four days to date covering the Holy Fire, capturing heart-wrenching images that tell the story of those affected by the blaze, but Thursday, Aug. 9, he witnessed what he calls "heroism in action" on Point Shore Drive.

Gibson was driving around the McVicker Canyon neighborhood looking for a good place to take some photos when he finally parked his vehicle and walked onto Point Shore Drive.

"I spotted a lone water tender truck in a corner of a neighborhood near a hot spot of fire threatening homes along the McVicker Canyon in Lake Elsinore," Gibson explained. "I walked over. The Canyon was completely below me."

Gibson said upon his arrival everything was calm for the most part. A trio of firefighters from San Luis Obispo was preparing hoses to suppress the flames as they crept closer to homes.

"I saw things begin to unfold," Gibson said. "The flames started kicking up and were blowing though the fence."

Gibson said the firefighter was attacking the flames with a hose from a backyard when things began to get more intense.

"I backed out a little bit to give them room to work and that is when that brush just erupted," he said. "Within a few short minutes, a large patch of dry brush near the homes exploded."

Before he knew it, brush in the area burst into a wall of fire.

"I was shooting photos and running to get behind the truck as a barrier from the heat," he said, adding that at that point it was just himself along with three firefighters in the area. As he was shooting the flare-up Gibson was taking a mental note of how tall the flames were in comparison to the fire truck parked right in front of them.

"They were at least four times taller than the truck," Gibson said. "Those flames had to be at least four stories high."

Some police officers and a possibly a fire captain pulled up and were watching the battle from a distance as events were unfolding in the cul de sac, he said.

Gibson said he wasn't afraid at the time.

"I was just thinking about staying a safe distance away and getting my photos," he said. 'I thought I would stay a little bit back and get some wide shots. I never felt like my life was threatened."

As Gibson shot his photos, the unthinkable happened.

"I saw a guy come out of a home pacing and yelling to the lone trio of firefighters, "please call for more help, please, please," Gibson said. "He was freaking out."

The man, later identified as Alex Geyer, was watching a family member's home while the family was on vacation, near where the flames had erupted. He later told Gibson he was concerned the fire would spread to the home.

"I have to be honest and say that I thought the homes were doomed," Gibson said. "It happened so quick."

Gibson said he felt the humanity of it all as he stood there taking photos of what was unfolding before him.

"I felt like he saw the same thing that I did – that the homes were going to go. The second I saw that flare-up, I thought, like I said, those homes were doomed," he said.

Fortunately for homeowners on Shore Point Drive, the efforts of those three firefighters managed to bring the flames back under control, saving the houses that were threatened by the massive flames.

"Shortly after that, the three firefighters confidently zeroed in on the massive flames with their hoses and put the fire out," Gibson said. "I swear, it was out in about 60 seconds. It was an absolutely impressive and intense moment in every way."

Geyer then came out of the home with a bucket of ice cold water that he shared with the firefighters and Gibson.

"He thanked the firefighters for their heroic work," Gibson said.

Gibson, who also took the time to praise the firefighters for their efforts, said that he felt an immense sense of relief once firefighters had the blaze back under control.

"I felt relived for Alex, I was relieved for myself, I felt impressed by the firefighters' ability to stay calm and put it out without freaking out," Gibson said. "The three of them stayed so calm and just homed in on it and put it out."

Gibson, who has shot many fires since picking up a camera, including last year's Lilac Fire in north San Diego County, the experience was one that will be ingrained in his memory for years to come.

Shane Gibson

Alex Geyer gives the trio of firefighters cold water after successfully saving homes during a dangerous moment of flames along Point Shore Drive during the Holy Fire, Aug. 9.

"I think with Alex there, it intensified it. It was personal to him, I was an outside observer just documenting but it was personal for him. He knew that if those homes caught on fire, it would affect his family," Gibson said. "When I covered the Lilac Fire it was so bad, I watched dozens of homes burn right before my eyes. There were such intense conditions. I've seen homes burn, but this was just so different. Him coming out as the fire erupted just made it more personal."

For Gibson what he observed that day was extremely impressive.

"This moment was nuts and I will never forget it, the battle of Point Shore Drive," he said. "There were all these small little battles and they were successful, it was just incredible. I will never forget this intense moment in that cul-de-sac and the way those three firefighters put those flames to rest. It was one of those you had to be there moments. They did an excellent job."

 

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