stadium baseball fire montana

Skip Willett looks over the destruction of the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium on Tuesday morning, June 28, in Columbia Falls.

The hardest days to be a photographer are ones when you have to photograph someone’s tragedy.

Last night a fire in a dumpster (possibly fireworks set off by kids) led to a fully engulfed structure fire that destroyed the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium in Columbia Falls. The stadium was built in 1989 by community volunteers like Bob Smith. He stands in the field, looking at the shell of what they had done and sadly states, “What a shame.” Smith looks up at the roof, now charred and black and gaping with holes, and remembers being up there and working on the roof.

photojournalism frame shot fire montana

This was my favorite photo of the day. It’s a frame shot using the burnt out structure to draw attention to Ray Queen, right, Nancy Underdahl, treasurer, another other on-lookers at the scene of structure fire that destroyed the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field late on Monday night, June 27, in Columbia Falls.

The coach, Ray Queen, is there, he paces the infield making calls, gathering and giving information, and starting the process of starting over. “It’s so ironic,” said Queen. “The last game we played here was Sunday. We played Kalispell and were winning 16-0 by the end of the third inning. The Kalispell team called it quits at that point. We weren’t trying to run up the score. I was out at third base signalling my team, ‘No more steals.'” Is it comforting at all to think that the final game was a victory?

For Queen this day is especially hard. This is what he told Daily Inter Lake reporter Katheryn Houghton:
The Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field was named in memory of two former players who had gone to the Babe Ruth World Series in 1983, Jimmy Sapa and and Ray Johnsrud.
A year after the team went to the series, the two players died in a collision with a train while driving home from a baseball practice.
“I had played with them until their tragic death,” Queen said. “This fire makes it feel like that’s happening all over again.”

coach baseball stadium fire ruins

Ray Queen stops to have a portrait taken in front of the ruins of the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium on Tuesday, June 28, in Columbia Falls.

In the scope of possible tragedies, this one is not as severe as a life lost. And yet, this is an emotional day for people. And coming in to photograph a painful moment in someone’s life is never easy. On the one hand, the paper has to have a photograph of this. The field is a landmark for the community and we can’t just ignore its destruction. We, the members of the news media, console ourselves and hope that our stories and photographs will inspire community members to get involved, donate time or money or resources, to help with the rebuild. But that doesn’t make taking the pictures easier.

For me, in these moments I feel like the worst kind of vulture. I feel like the photographic version of an ambulance-chaser. I feel guilty. I have a job to do, but I hate it. The question is, how to do this compassionately? How to do this job and keep my humanity? And for me, introvert that I am, the answer is rather unexpected. It’s to talk. Talk with the people. Don’t jump in with the hard-hitting questions. Show a little sympathy. I personally have no connection to this place, but I can feel empathy for what they’ve lost and for all the mess they’ll have to clean up. Don’t ask for stories like you’re trying to get the scoop, but let them tell their stories, so they can share and feel heard. And then get to work. Start taking photos. Details, overviews, people if they’ll let you. That way, when you express sorrow for having to ask these questions and take these pictures, they’ll forgive you and say, “It’s ok. You’re just doing your job.”

fire line do not cross stadium fire baseball montana

Detail of the fire line tape put up to keep people out o the ruined Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Field stadium on Tuesday, June 28, in Columbia Falls.

UPDATE:

This is why community journalism is great. In the morning I photographed the fire. In the afternoon I saw the team out doing a fundraiser car wash. I stopped to get more photos and we are going to run this photo with the fundraising information that they didn’t have yesterday when all this was unfolding. I also learned at the car was that the league did not have insurance on the structure, they are going to have to raise all the funds. I called my boss, we added that to the story. It’s important information and I get to be part of helping get the word out. Even the hardest days are great days when you get to do something good.

baseball field fire fundraiser Montana

Austyn Andrachick, front to back, Hunter Palmer, and Trenton Tyree (on PalmerÕs shoulders) and other team members wave to cars to invite them to their fundraiser carwash on Tuesday afternoon, June 28, in Whitefish. Ironically the day the community woke up to learn the bleachers at the Sapa-Johnsrud Babe Ruth Fields has been destroyed in a fire the team members were already scheduled to do the fundraiser at the Cenex Zip Trip to help with travel expenses for tournaments.
Babe Ruth President Ray Queen said the field doesn’t have any structural insurance. That means the costs of repairs will have to be met by the league. Fundraisers are still in the discussion phase but there is a GoFundMe page through which the league is trying to raise $30,000.
People can donate by visiting: https://www.gofundme.com/sapa-johnsrud
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

If you are so inclined to help out with this effort check out: https://www.gofundme.com/sapa-johnsrud

Advertisements

The Charm Campaign

View from atop the Evergreen Fire and Rescue ladder truck of a fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. The helicopter is from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake) (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

View from atop the Evergreen Fire and Rescue ladder truck of a fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. The helicopter is from the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

It doesn’t take spending a whole lot of time with me to realize that I consider those who serve in the military, in law enforcement, or as firefighters, heroes. They are the good guys (and girls) and they have my respect and admiration. In a way, they all remind me of my greatest hero, my father, Sgt. Michael James Ahearn, USMC.

In my career as a newspaper photographer I have been both blessed and cursed in my dealings with these groups. The blessing is that I get to work with them, get to know them, get to do my small part to show them in their daily lives serving their communities and not getting as much credit as I wish they did. As far as them getting credit and recognition, I get to help with that and I love it.

A Creston firefighter battles the blaze at a structure fire/grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A Creston firefighter battles the blaze at a structure fire/grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

The curse is, military, cops and firefighters tend to have an aversion to members of the media. I don’t blame them for this. Most of them have either personally had a bad experience with biased, unethical journalists. If they haven’t lived through it for themselves, they have certainly been warned by their brothers that media people are not to be trusted. Again, I don’t blame them for this attitude, the sad fact is journalism and ethics don’t walk hand-in-hand so much these days.
Fire in Evergreen
In the six years I have lived in Montana I have slowly but surely started making friends and allies amongst the local first responders. I don’t have a lot of active duty military connections yet, so for me, cops are the hardest. For a couple of years now I’ve been doing photos and ride alongs with members of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office. I will never forget how joyful I felt when the team leader for the SWAT Team told me that every member of the team was on board for me doing photos of them. They decided to trust me. And I’m honored. And, just a few weeks ago a very stern (and a little scary) Montana Highway Patrol Trooper told me he appreciated me, the work I do, and the way I do my work. He made my day.
Fire in Evergreen
My editor Scott refers to my efforts to improve relations with these groups as the “charm campaign.” The newspaper likes it because over time I have slowly started to win over some of the locals. It takes ages, but it’s so worth it.

A DNRC helicopter flies through smoke to drop water on the scene of a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. Evergreen Fire and Rescue were joined by the Kalispell and Creston fire departments, the Flathead County Sheriff's Office, forest firefighters and other first responders.  (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A DNRC helicopter flies through smoke to drop water on the scene of a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. Evergreen Fire and Rescue were joined by the Kalispell and Creston fire departments, the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, forest firefighters and other first responders.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

As a journalist its worth every effort because I get better photos and better access. When they see me, they know who I am, they know I’m not going to get in the way or stir up trouble and so they don’t have to question me. On the days when I am really lucky I will sometimes even get tips and texts letting me know what’s going on. I recently spent a full day and four nights riding with the Kalispell Fire Department documenting a day in the life…best part? Text messages when there is a fire I should get to. Love that!

High winds contributed to the structure fire/ grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

High winds contributed to the structure fire/ grassland fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Firefighters are tricky… There are rules that make photographing them difficult. If a firefighter gets his name and photo in the paper, he or she will have to buy ice cream or pizza or tacos or whatever for the whole shift. I have seen firefighters notice me taking pictures and deliberately turn and walk the other way. Do you know how frustrating that is!!! I could strangle them for this! But even the ones who don’t want to be photographed, they’ll go out of their way to help get me the access I need for photos and to keep me safe while I’m taking pictures. Sometimes they say no when I ask. In fact, that happens quite a lot. But I ask for a lot. And they never seem to resent me asking the questions. Sometimes though, they say yes, and then I get photos like these. This fire was only 6 acres, contained due to the combined efforts of at least 4 fire departments. And because I know these people, they let me in, they let me get close, they trust me and they allow me to do my job.

Fire in EvergreenBut there are other results of this so-called “campaign,” ones that have nothing to do with the newspaper. Results that are frankly far more important to me than photos. My father died when I was 25 years old. He got to see the start of my photography career, but only a little. I so desperately wish he could have seen who I grew up to be. When I think of my dad, the man he was, the Marine that he was, I know that if he was alive today he would see my work with these heroes and he would be proud of me.

My parents are the measuring stick against which I evaluate the trajectory and the fruits of my life. They are always with me, but they are silent. When one of the cops or firefighters or the military people that I know decides to trust me, even a little, I can almost hear my father’s voice. I can see his smile and hear him say “Good job.”

Fire in Evergreen

Evergreen Fire and Rescue Chief Williams looks out over the structure fire/grassland fire that filled the skies over Evergreen with smoke on Tuesday, August 4. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Evergreen Fire and Rescue Chief Williams looks out over the structure fire/grassland fire that filled the skies over Evergreen with smoke on Tuesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

James Boyce of Evergreen Fire and Rescue. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

James Boyce of Evergreen Fire and Rescue. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Kyle Gully of the Kalispell Fire Department. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Kyle Gully of the Kalispell Fire Department. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A firefighter battles a fire in an outbuilding south of the main structure fire on Wednesday, August 5, on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

A firefighter battles a fire in an outbuilding south of the main structure fire on Wednesday, August 5, on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Smoke billows from a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Smoke billows from a massive fire on Mountain View Drive in Evergreen on Wednesday, August 5.
(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

(Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Fire in Evergreen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking back: the best of 2014

The end of the year draws nigh. On the one hand, I am finding it difficult to imagine how an entire year got away from me. Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago I was struggling to sign my checks 2014 instead of 2013?

During this holiday week I have been going back through my files from this year to pull together my best of collection from images for the Daily Inter Lake. I’ll use this same set of photos to decide what entries I want to submit for our annual newspaper competition. The great thing about this is, that even though I feel the days fled far too swiftly, I look back at all that was accomplished and I’m suddenly ok with the changing of the calendar. 2014 was good. So now, before I jump into 2015, I want to take this moment to post my favorite photos from this year.

Most of these are going to be chronological. Most. One exception. This first image is a combination of work. The moon and star is an image I captured from Big Mountain, in Whitefish Montana on April 15th. The “Blood Moon.” My fellow Daily Inter Lake photographer, Patrick Cote, was south of Kalispell photographing the same thing. He created the sequence of shots.

Blood Moon over Whitefish

Some of these photos are going to have notes or short stories. But many times, I am going to simply let the image speak for itself. After all, photojournalism is supposed to be about story-telling images, I’m going to them tell their own stories. At least, that is my plan at this point…

Washing Windows

Sunset Peaks

Flathead Girls vs CMR

Boys Basketball: Flathead vs Missoula Hellgate

Class AA State Speech and Debate Award Ceremony

Newspaper work involves an unbelievable amount of driving around, randomly searching for subject matter. You drive the speed limit, even a bit bellow, carefully scanning for signs of some human out living their life. It’s called wild art and most photographers that I have met, hate it. It’s hard. Sometimes you are looking for hours and there are just no people. That’s when you get desperate and start looking for pretty leaves, crazy squirrels, interesting bugs, anything!… Winter is particularly hard. In the summer everyone is outside, in the cold…not so much. That’s when finding a kid out playing street hockey in the middle of the road feels like a prayer has been answered! Yeah! A person! A person outside! A person outside doing something! A person outside doing something that I can photograph for the front page! Thank God my job is saved….

Snowy Street Hockey

Scene from a homicide in Hungry Horse on Valentine’s Day.

Fatal Shooting in Hungry Horse

Profile: Travis Davison

Trumpeter Swans on Flathead Lake

Pond Hockey Tournament

2014_Best_of_12

Crosstown

Hope for Noah

All Saints' Episcopal Church Annual Chili Open and Golf Tournament

My friend Jake Bramante has not only hiked all 734 miles of trail in Glacier National Park, he created a map and hiking guide based on his personal experience. This guy is fantastic. If you are day dreaming of a trip to Montana to see the famous park check out www.hike734.com

New Map of Day Hikes from Jake Bramante and Hike 734

Zachary Klundt in Court

Wrestling: Glacier vs Helena High

Little Guy Wrestling

This photo is a sunrise over Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park. I like this first version. But I keep getting out voted. Most people like the second version. Including USA Today. Montana was voted the state with the most pride and they used on of my photos to illustrate the story. 🙂

http://archive.courier-journal.com/usatoday/article/8140879

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Stocking the pond at Dry Bridge Park

Hiking the Highline

Lunch at Logan Pass

Easter at Fresh Life Church. Followed by Pastor Levi Lusko preaching.

Fresh Life Easter

Fresh Life Easter

Swing dancing is one of the great loves of my life. This is my instructor Peter Flahiff, dancing with my friend Miss Caitlin Hills.Dancing the night away

 

Drop Everything and Move at Hedges

Montana SunsetSunset view of Big Mountain

Montana Spartan Sprint Race 2014Florence Nightingale's Birthday

 

This Week in the Flathead: Bibler Gardens

Just another day of driving down the road in Montana…

Bear in Glacier

Memorial Day Ceremony in Columbia Falls

Sunset StrollMontana High School Rodeo State Finals

 

Montana High School Rodeo State Finals

Harlow

Not all the stories are fun. There was a fire at a local mill. In the initial reports 60 people were unaccounted for. This is the group of guys who got in my face and tried to physically intimidate me in an attempt to keep me from taking photographs. I understand the high emotions of the day, but I have a job to do, even when some people don’t like me doing my job.

Fire at Plum Creek

 

 

Mary Lloyd Retires

Father's Day

Montana Life: The Lens Hub

This Week in the Flathead: Swing Dancing Style

This Week in the Flathead: Swing Dancing Style

Deer at Dawn

Deer at Dawn

Sunrise Meadow

Driving up to North Glacier

Every year, when Going-to-the-Sun Road is finally plowed and opened to the public, the first vehicle in is one of the famed red buses. Rhonda Hendricks, always wanted to be on one of those first buses. This year, with months to live, Hendricks got her wish. Here is the caption:

Rhonda Hendricks takes in the view of the Logan Pass Visitor Center from the famous red bus that carried her and her family up Going-to-the-Sun Road, officially opening the road for the season, on Tuesday, July 2, in Glacier National Park. Hendricks’ family managed to keep the surprise bus tour a secret until the day of. Doug Hendricks, her husband commented that is was wonderful to see her so grateful that she became tearful. The ride was a highly emotional one. (Brenda Ahearn/Daily Inter Lake)

Opening the Road

Fourth of July Golf Tournament

Moonset

Photographing fly fishing is kind always special to me. I loved the book A River Runs Through It, and although this isn’t that river, there is just something about fly fishing in Montana. Later this year, I got to go on float trip/fly fishing expedition. I caught my first fish! It was spectacular. Cold. But worth it.

Montana Life: Cork Coffee Mug

2014_Best_of_54

National Dance Day

Double Rainbow over Flathead Lake

The home coming of pilot of No. 6  Major Jason Curtis, a graduate of Flathead High School, and the United States Air Force Thunderbirds was one of the biggest stories of the year. The Tunderbirds performed for two days at the air show which was attended by 25,000 people.

Major Jason Curtis returns to Flathead High School

Thunderbirds Practice

Mountain Madness Air ShowMountain Madness Air Show

Mountain Madness Air Show

North End Swing's annual Smooth Sailing event

Acknowledging Veterans of the Korean War

Cabo Survivor Returns to Montana

Glacier Starscape

2nda Annual Pink Me Up Run

Creston Sunrise

Fire Prevention Week

Black Swan Cygnets

Fall Football Fun

Profile: Halladay Quist

Veteran Profile: James Edmiston

Veterans Day at Whitefish High School

Glacier vs C.M. Russell: State Championships

Glacier vs C.M. Russell: State Championships

 

 

Profile: Micah Groschupf

Hockaday figurines at the KM Building

Montana Life: Freeman Leather

Montana Life: Freeman Leather

This final portrait is of my favorite story of the year. Mr. Wayne Bolton is a former Untied States Marine who survived the battle of the Chosin Reservoir. I got to tell his story in both words and images. https://brendaahearn.wordpress.com/2014/11/27/remembering-chosin/

Remembering Chosin