Thursday, June 23, 2011
Photographer haunted by sight, smell of burning homes

Andrew Pielage was nauseous.


The street was quieter than he expected, but he could see a family’s trailer parked inside a ring of burnt soil. Two children knelt behind it in the grass, their hands plunging through piles of rubble. For a moment, he put down his camera and considered turning back.


“The thing that really struck me was the smell,” Pielage, 33, said. “It was overwhelming. When I got there I remember thinking that the fires were still burning. Then I realized that what I smelled were actually fumes coming from the homes.”


In May, wildfires began to rage throughout forests and communities in the U.S. Southwest, destroying homes and displacing residents. Pielage, an aspiring photographer and iReporter, drove from Scottsdale into Greer, Arizona after watching video footage of the devastated community on his local news.


“As a photographer, my job is to document what’s happening,” Pielage explained. “It was hard work and bravery on the part of the firefighters that saved Greer. In some photos, I put a home that was not destroyed in the background so the viewer could get an idea of how close this fire was to destroying the entire town.”


But as he began to walk around the community, Pielage struggled to process the level of destruction.


“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I felt so helpless. There were a few times when I would just put my camera down and shake my head. I saw a garage that was totally burnt out and had nothing but a toolbox in it. It is really hard to comprehend that kind of loss.”


After taking more than three dozen photos, Pielage uploaded his story to CNN iReport. The goal was not only to raise awareness about the loss in Arizona, Pielage explained, but also to show the world Greer's resilience.


“The spirit of the people there is really inspiring,” he said. “I would walk by and people would still smile or give me a little wave. The fact that they could still smile after everything is absolutely amazing.”


Pielage’s moving story and photos have added new dimension to our ongoing coverage of the wildfires in Arizona. Are you there? Upload your videos and photos to iReport and share your story.

June 23, 2011
Click to view conq87's profile

My heart goes out to the people of Greer, Arizona- I live in New England, where, by and large, we aren't affected by these types of disasters, especially in the Boston area.


I can conjure no words of sympathy that seem adequate, but I admire your spirit in the face of the destruction you've endured.

June 24, 2011
Click to view Joanna77's profile

This is a awesome article. I am 31 years old and live in Jeffersonville, Ind. I however was born and raised in a town called Pinetop, Arizona not 1 hour from Greer. I spent many summers and hunting seasons in Greer. I can't even explain how sad I am to see the town almost gone. I moved away from the White Mountains when I was 21. Being evacuated from your home because of a fire can be such a scarey thing.

June 24, 2011
Click to view inflorida's profile

How is this even on the front page of CNN's home page? This is NOT news.

June 24, 2011
Click to view coy4one's profile

The drought in the south and southwest has been terrible this year. Worst since 1956 according to the news this morning in Houston, Texas. Thanks to rain yesterday and the day before, two of our largest fires are almost out. Houston is brown, very brown. I keep an orange tree, two palms and my yuca and banana trees watered, but the rest of my yard is a fire hazard. Selling fireworks has been eliminated this year. Going to be a hot 4th. Every day on the news we hear about the homes burned, land burnt and even lost of many animals. It's a sad year in Texas and Arizona.

June 24, 2011
Click to view mpgamma's profile

Such idiots in Florida. I live in Tucson and have been

breathing smoke from both the Portal and monument fires for a week now. I believe it's newsworthy, as is the above article.

June 24, 2011
Click to view head714's profile

I agree with mpgamma, inflorida is a idiot.  This is news and sad.

June 24, 2011
Click to view Maguire06's profile

inflorida.....we'll all remember YOUR comment when the next Hurrican hits won't be news worthy because it happens every year!  You are an idiot!! People lost their homes, all their belongings, many are now homeless.....but that doesn't affect you so you say it isn't news worthy!?! How heartless you are!

June 24, 2011
Click to view robertcalif's profile

Are there new building technology to mitigate the impact of this kind of fire? Traditional wood-frame houses seem very vulnerable to hill fire of this kind of scale.

July 16, 2011
Click to view ucanman's profile

CNN It is Time to Present to America a Breath Of Fresh AIR  I am John The U-Can! Man ready to tell America's Politicians and People U-CAN! Help me get this Meassage Out to our Nation Check out The U-Can! Man LLC website and start sharing with America U-CAN! I am The U-Can! Man

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