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Visitor photographs fire, posts time-lapse video

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Posted: Friday, August 23, 2013 8:34 am

While Chaffee County residents saw and smelled smoke from the West Fork Complex Fire, a visitor to Colorado photographed the fire and smoke from as close as 3 miles and posted the result online for the world to see.

Through more than 500 gigabytes of photos, cinematographer Matt Johnson, 26, Mesquite, Texas, captured the fires and their ensuing smoke plumes and edited the result into a time-lapse video titled “Pagosa,” which he posted online.

The video, just over 4 minutes long, shows the fire and its effects in different areas around Pagosa Springs from June 15 to June 22.

While taking the photos for the video, seeing the fires so close and large felt surreal, Johnson said. “It was beautiful and terrifying.”

He said, “It made me feel like the smallest person in the face of the fire.”

Johnson said he did not know he would end up so close to the fires when he arrived in the area for a family vacation. His family had come to Colorado last year, and on this return visit he decided to bring his camera.

He originally planned to take photos of nature in Colorado during the trip, but when he saw the size and proximity of the fire, he decided to capture that. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Johnson said.

With the West Fork Complex Fire, Johnson said he had a chance to do something uncommon and get quality footage of the fire. He said most of the disaster videos he has seen seem to come from smartphones or small cameras that produce shaky, low-quality videos.

He took the photos for the time-lapse video with a Canon 7D using a few different lenses. For each section of time lapse, he took about 600 photos. The video took him about half a month to edit before he posted it online in July.

Since he posted the video on, it has received more than 16,000 views and attention from a variety of blogs and websites, including the Huffington Post.

Johnson has the video on his website at, and the video can also be viewed at

Lightning started the West Fork Complex Fire June 5, and it burned more than 100,000 acres in the next month.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a Wildfire Smoke Health Advisory June 20 covering Chaffee and Fremont counties, among other areas of the state, because of smoke from the West Fork Complex Fire and other fires across the state.

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