I had only just sat down on the sofa, having made myself a cup of tea, before my phone beeped with the sound of an incoming message at around about 5.40pm on Friday 30th October 2015.
It was a new text from my wife. She said: “Something’s on fire down the Steventon Rd.”
Without giving away my address online, the road that connects the South Oxfordshire villages of Steventon and East Hanney – that my wife had just driven past before texting me – is a stone’s throw from our home. If I stood outside of my front door, I could have seen the bellows of smoke from across the way.
Therefore, I did what all trainee journalists would do in my position; I grabbed my phone, put on my coat and went to find out what the story was.
Although not immediately. Having just made myself a cup of tea, I did have something of a dilemma on my hands. So I thought to myself: “What would Sir Francis Drake do?”
(I didn’t really think that, but it sounds cool, right? Plus, in a similar sort of fashion, I did finish my cup of tea first with plenty of time left to go out and get the story.)
During the tea-drinking phase of this report (!) I used the time to do a quick spot of research. I searched Twitter for “Hanney fire” and checked on the local Facebook community group to see if there was any useful information on there. I needed to know where the fire was coming from, who was involved (if known), was the fire under control, had anyone been injured etc. I guess it might come across as a bit naive, but I really didn’t want to be the bloke waving a camera in my neighbours’ faces if somebody there had been badly hurt, or worse.
Twenty minutes later, I found myself standing next to a fire
engine appliance, pointing my phone’s camera lens towards the blazing barn. My first question to the firefighters, “so what’s going on then?”, was quite rightly met with a blank expression. “Um, well, there’s a fire.”
Ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer!
In a way, laughing at my daft question broke the ice. I spoke to three separate members of the Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service and began to ask more sensible follow up questions: how long has the fire been burning for, what are you doing to stop it, how many fire appliances are here, how long will it burn for, is there any suggestion that it’s connected to the arson that occurred on the road a few years ago, etc. They were very cooperative, answering as many of my questions as they could, generally being very friendly and chatty.
I have nothing but respect for all of the work that the emergency services do, but I did learn that as terrible as it is for something like this to occur to somebody’s property, at least they could admit that it was not another boring evening of rescuing a cat from a tree.
However, perhaps my favourite answer that they gave was to the question “do you know what caused the fire?”
They said: “It could have been anything that started it. A packet of crisps […] if the light catches it right, it magnifies it. It could be anything. Self combust, with all the chemicals they have in there. That’s why [barn fires] are so common.”
I found this whole idea of a packet of crisps starting a barn fire quite remarkable and admittedly quite amusing too. Just how hot is a packet of nice ‘n spicy Nik Naks these days?
Although I couldn’t use any of these quotes in my report as: a) they were at best speculative, but more factually just informative and unconnected fire-safety comments about how barn fires in general might occur; b) I negated to mention that I was a trainee journalist; and c) I didn’t get their names, pictures or permission. Oh well. It gives me something extra to put in this blog piece, at least.
When I had all the information I needed and had taken all the pictures I thought might be useful – the barn on fire, the fire service doing their job, the traffic approaching the closed road, police at the barricades and so on – I set about editing the footage using Final Cut Pro X back home.
Trying to get decent, usable video in such low light proved tricky – there aren’t any street lights in my village, it’s that remote – but I did have a handful of shots that I was very proud of.
I finished editing the footage into something resembling a timeline of events, thinking all the time about the training that I’d received at university over the past five weeks (e.g. best pictures first, answering the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘when’, and ‘how’, following the three words per second rule, matching the pictures to the words etc).
I then wrote a script. And re-wrote the script…
…and then re-re-wrote it again for good measure!
I recorded my audio, re-arranging some of the footage to suit the voice-over in the process. I exported the final pictures as a .mov file and uploaded it to YouTube at about 9.00pm, only a few hours after I first found out about the blaze, but still before the firefighters were set to leave the scene at around 11.00pm.
It was Tweeted, posted to Facebook, and by the following day it had been published in various media outlets such as those owned by Newsquest Media Group (The Oxford Times, Oxford Mail, The Herald series, etc), BBC South Today and ITV Meridian.
And also commented on by a friend of mine (making a joke, I hasten to add!)
Rather annoyingly, I forgot to set my YouView box to record South Today and ITV Meridian on Saturday evening, but I did manage to catch up on the BBC report via iPlayer. It’s quite the thrill to see your pictures being used on TV for a proper news piece for the first (and hopefully not last) time.
OK, so it was only a 20 second NIB, but it was six of my video clips that were used on South Today and it’s incredibly exciting. Well, it is to me, at least! It’s not like I’ve been obsessing over it or anything (68 views on YouTube within an hour of me posting my clips and over 430 views by the time the weekend was out!)
Even if it was a case of being in the right place at the right time, and although it’s already old news and I really should be thinking about what I’ll do next, you can still view my full 48 second news piece in the YouTube clip below. Unfortunately, iPlayer’s BBC report has now expired, or else I’d be linking you to that too.
Please leave a reply in the box at the bottom of this page if you have any comments for me. I genuinely would value any constructive feedback.[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv3k-VeI44A]