Covering a scene of horror

ViewFinder

ViewFinder

January 28, 2007|By Algerina Perna | Algerina Perna,Sun Staff

I arrived at the site of the fire just before noon on Jan. 18, 2007. The blaze had swept through the 100-year-old house less than two hours before. But now the flames had been extinguished, and so had the lives of five people: two grandparents ages 72 and 47, and three of their grandchildren, ages 3, 4 and 9 months.

Photographing the ordered chaos of the scene on Philadelphia Road in Abingdon, talking to deputy fire marshals and transmitting pictures in the damp cold, kept me so preoccupied that the emotional reality of the deaths didn't hit me until many hours later.

I took pictures of toys lying in the yard of the charred house to convey that children had lost their lives. But standing in the yard, now strewn with fire debris and surrounded by more than 60 firefighters, I found it hard to imagine that children had recently played there.

In the quiet hours of the next morning, tears welled up as I reflected on the reality of this sudden tragedy. The anguished face of a relative who had been escorted from the scene replayed in my mind. I thought about the grief of the pregnant mother who lost three of her four children. I hoped the 7-year-old sister who was at school when the fire started would not experience survivor's guilt. I wondered about the impact of the deaths on the firefighters and investigators who had the painful job of collecting human remains among the ashes.

Covering the fire stirred many things within me. Most of all, gratitude and prayers. Gratitude for the firefighters who risk their lives nearly every day. Gratitude for all I have. And prayers that family members who survived may some day find joy and peace as they live with their great loss.

A portfolio of other images taken by Sun photographers can be seen at www.baltimoresun.com/viewfinder.

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