Monday, January 6, 2014

January 4th 2014 Abbas House Fire Buffalo Minnesota

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I've seen a lot. Killer tornadoes, fatal accidents, drowning recoveries, fires. I admit, you get numb after a while. Although you feel bad for the victims and the families at the time, that personal connection isn't there. Most of the time I'm shooting video or images hundreds of miles from home of the worst moments in people's lives. The last five words of the previous sentence is what I always keep in mind when deciding what material I will post on the internet or sell to a news agency. I've had footage subpeonaed, been threatened by mindless personal injury attorneys, and have been questioned by countless law enforcement officers. All in a day for an independent stringer/photographer. However, that instance when the story at hand involves someone you know, the game changes.

On Saturday evening the kids were all out doing something and Melinda and I were enjoying a quiet evening alone at home. We ran to the laundry mat to dry some clothes since our dryer was on the fritz. As we were leaving we noticed 2 Allina ambulances go past. It was icy that night so our first thought was "car accident" on highway 55. Next we noticed the fire department dispatching trucks from the Centennial station near our house. The trucks headed south further leading me to believe is was a car accident. I was tired and didn't feel like shooting anything like that so we headed home. Within a couple of minutes though Melinda saw a post on Facebook about someone's house being on fire. She didn't know who it was but I immediately recognized the name when she said "Elmer Abbas". I grabbed my video equipment and headed out the door. Cullen and I along with his grandpa and the other kids spend quite a few evenings each warm season hacking away at golf balls on his driving range next to his home. As we cleared the crest of the final hill on Carling Avenue heading south towards his home, my heart kinda sank. The usual winter dark farm landscape was lit up by a dozen or so fire trucks with blue and red LED lights flashing away. It was the real deal..

Before I get into the images and video, I need to tell you, the reader, the whole purpose of me posting this is not to draw attention to what I experienced. To the family this is not meant to be disrespectful or add more pain to the open wound which is currently there. The purpose this of this entry is to get this family help. They lost everything. Not just material goods, but memories. Photo albums, home made Christmas ornaments, keepsakes. It's gone. Please take a moment to consider helping them out. This family has done a lot for our community and it is time to give back. A bunch of small donations can add up to a lot. Other fire victims have already stepped up to help them. If they can, the rest of us surely could.

Here are some links with info on this family:

FB group set up to help them recover photos and pass on info: Help Elmer and Carole Abbas Get Back on Their Feet

They also have a page set up at:

Here is a story FOX9 did on them.

The family is specifically asking for Walmart / Target / Kohl's gift cards. Clothing is especially needed and the cards help them in a big way.
They can be mailed to:

Abbas Family Fire Recovery
PO Box 373
Buffalo, MN 55313

One last comment before content. My son, Cullen, was at Walmart this evening and ran in to Elmer and had a chance to chat for a minute. Cullen came out to join Melinda and I the night of the fire as things were starting to slow down. I was glad he took a moment to express his sorrow for what happened to them. I know it was from the heart.

Here is the video. Copies of the full clips have been furnished to the Buffalo FD also.

This is a timelape version covering about an hour and a half. Turn off the sound if you don't care for the music. For some reason YT is taking their time removing the audio track.

Here are some stills off the video.

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The intensity of the smoke suddenly picked up. We had been on scene for a little less than an hour at this point. Several times up to this point I thought the FD had it in hand as the smoke output cut down substantially.

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I was wrong. The fire suddenly erupted through the southeastern wall.

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From that point on there was no stopping it evidently.

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The fire behavior went from aggressive to violent as it raced though the upper part of the structure fanned by arctic northwest winds in the -5°F air.

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The home collapses.

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Reduced to flames of nothingness within minutes.

The next morning I went back early. It was well below zero but I wanted to do this. Only twice have I ever gone back to a tornado damage path of a storm I had been on. Both were killers. Both were in Minnesota. The August 24th 2006 Nicollet/Kasota/Cleveland F3 and the September 16th 2006 Rogers F2. As with both of those, the intent in going back was not to gawk at the destruction, but to capture the human side of these tragedies. These events change people's lives...forever. I never forget that. If anything else, taking the time to record these images is a good reality check for me.

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For some reason this last image is the most powerful in my opinion. To me, a mailbox represents a rural home. In this case, there is not a home but the mailbox still stands. I hope this is a sign before long there will be a new home on this spot with Elmer and Carole going about their lives as Cullen and his grandpa hit golf balls along the east side of their property. Please do what you can.


Jen @ de Jong Dream House said...

Bill, I am Elmer's daughter, and I am in tears. Thank for these eerie, heartbreaking, respectful, beautiful photos and commentary. This was my childhood home. I have no words. Your photos say it all.

Mike Schoemer said...

Great stuff, Bill.

Unknown said...

Being able to use your resources, talents, and skills – which in your case is in photography – to help the ones in need is a great contribution. So thank you for sharing this post with us, Bill. I’m sure this will be a big help in getting the message out there to the people who are willing to help whole-heartedly.

Ron Griffith @ Help and Safety at Work Ltd

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