Fort Atkinson man captures history and documents ‘bravery’ of heroes in warehouse fire

Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 8:17 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2021 at 10:34 PM CDT
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FORT ATKINSON, Wis. (WMTV) - A Fort Atkinson photographer captured history for his hometown during a warehouse fire earlier this month.

On August 10, Spencer Jelinek said he saw smoke from his balcony. Instead of running from the fire, he ran toward it.

“It was just a split reaction. ‘I need to go do this,’ and I did it,” he said. “I immediately thought the worst, and that’s why I grabbed the camera. I was like, ‘OK, well I can grab my camera and document this. If I need to help, I can help.”

Fort Atkinson Fire on Aug 10
Fort Atkinson Fire on Aug 10(Courtesy of Spencer Jelinek)

The landscape photographer said he had never captured a fire before that Tuesday. “Honestly, I was a little scared in certain aspects because there were explosions every now and then,” he said.

A blaze had broken out at an industrial park in the 700 block of Oak Street. It sent a plume of black smoke high into the air.

“This is one that you want to document,” Fort Atkinson Fire Chief Daryl Rausch said. “This is what we in the fire service call a ‘career fire.’ Many of the firefighters will spend the rest of their career and will never see another incident of this magnitude.”

Chief Rausch said more than 200 firefighters from four dozen departments responded.

Two weeks since the fire, Jelinek gifted the department with a couple of his photos printed on canvas. Everything else, he said, he gave as digital copies for the department to use.

His photos highlight what unique obstacles firefighters faced, especially the evening storm.

“Pretty much I was ducking and covering and trying not to get drowned because the rain came,” Chief Rausch recalled.

Fort Atkinson fire on Aug. 10 during evening storm
Fort Atkinson fire on Aug. 10 during evening storm(Courtesy of Spencer Jelinek)

“I felt like I needed to document their bravery,” Jelinek said. “They’re risking their life every single day, so to me that’s important, and they deserve photos to actually remember all that.”

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