Fire and ice

Fire and ice

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The water used to fight a huge warehouse fire in Chicago turned to ice in the freezing cold, encasing the building in white. At the time, parts of the Midwest reported temperatures that, with the wind chill factor, felt as low as minus 46 degrees Celsius (51 below zero Fahrenheit).

The fire department said it was the biggest fire it had seen in years, with one third of all Chicago firefighters being mobilised to battle the flames.

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Slideshow

Icicles hang from the hat of firefighter Michael De Jesus as he mans a water cannon while fighting the fire. The blaze started on the evening of Jan 22, when the fire department came to battle the flames. They later had to return to the scene after the fire rekindled.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

Icicles hang from the hat of firefighter Michael De Jesus as he mans a water cannon while fighting the fire. The blaze started on the evening of Jan 22, when the fire department came to battle the flames. They later had to return to the scene after the fire rekindled.

There are worries that the ice encasing the warehouse could compromise the structure of the building, and the whole thing could collapse.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

There are worries that the ice encasing the warehouse could compromise the structure of the building, and the whole thing could collapse.

A Chicago fireman walks carefully across the ice at the burnt-out warehouse.
. Chicago, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

A Chicago fireman walks carefully across the ice at the burnt-out warehouse.

Ice covers the facade of the building.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

Ice covers the facade of the building.

Firefighters spray down hot spots on collapsed parts of the smoking structure. About 200 firefighters were involved in taming the flames.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

Firefighters spray down hot spots on collapsed parts of the smoking structure. About 200 firefighters were involved in taming the flames.

A fireman looks towards the frozen facade of the burnt-out warehouse. The building formerly belonged to the Harris Marcus Group, a lamp manufacturer that used to employ hundreds on Chicago's South Side.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

A fireman looks towards the frozen facade of the burnt-out warehouse. The building formerly belonged to the Harris Marcus Group, a lamp manufacturer that used to employ hundreds on Chicago's South Side.

A firefighter walks along a water hose used to extinguish the fire. At the time of publication the fire department said the cause of the blaze was unknown.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

A firefighter walks along a water hose used to extinguish the fire. At the time of publication the fire department said the cause of the blaze was unknown.

A truck parked outside the warehouse is encased in ice from water used to fight the flames.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

A truck parked outside the warehouse is encased in ice from water used to fight the flames.

Ice covers machinery as smoke rises from the smouldering ruins of the warehouse behind.
. CHICAGO, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

Ice covers machinery as smoke rises from the smouldering ruins of the warehouse behind.

A fireman treads across the ice-glazed ground of the warehouse as colleagues, almost hidden by smoke, battle the blaze.
. Chicago, United States. REUTERS/John Gress

A fireman treads across the ice-glazed ground of the warehouse as colleagues, almost hidden by smoke, battle the blaze.

"I could feel the smoke in my lungs as I gazed at trucks encased in ice."
John Gress, Reuters Photographer

I had just woken up when the phone rang. It was Reuters Editor Hans Deryk asking me to take photos of a warehouse fire, apologising for the early call. “Are you kidding me?," I said. "I've been waiting for this for 10 years!”

Ever since I moved to Chicago, I had heard about houses and buildings encased in ice after fires but I'd never seen it with my own eyes. Winter is already a bit of a treat, because I was brought up in Portland, Oregon, where it rarely snows. But this just sounded incredible.

Arriving at the scene, I started to scope things out to see where pictures looked their best and get a feel for how the police might act as I got close. Thankfully, they were more concerned with keeping the public back and less inclined to exit their warm squad cars to keep the press at bay.

The leeward side of the building was covered in ice, and it made some great shots of icicle-covered windows and fire fighters on aerial platforms spaying down hot spots. But I knew I had to make my way all around the building.

I carefully edged my way over the ice and debris until I was on the windward side of the warehouse. I could feel the smoke in my lungs as I gazed at trucks encased in ice. I couldn't help wondering if the building's windows would still be intact once they thawed.

This winter wonderland is where I found Chicago Fire Department Lieutenant Charley De Jesus, making his way over the ice, keeping an eye on his men and occasionally breaking through a top layer of the glaze and sinking down to the snow and slush below.

It’s about this time that the inevitable happened… the hole in my boot that I had been thinking about ever since I left the house was now betraying me. So much for dry socks!