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Central Washington University

Alumna's California Wildfire Photos Get Published Nationwide

Alumna Katharine Lotze, staff photographer for the Santa Clarita Valley Signal, has had her photos of the Sand Fire north of Los Angeles picked up by the Associated Press and published across the country.

Lotze, a 2012 CWU journalism grad, described covering the fire as a crazy few days.

“The Sand Fire started small, and got really big, really fast,” Lotze said. “Heading out there, I didn't think it was going to be much. We get spot fires and small brushers (as they're called) all the time around here, and just had the Sage Fire (1,500 acres) two weeks ago, so we weren't exactly overdue for a bigger one.”

Since she was working with older equipment that doesn’t have the ability to transmit via Wi-Fi, Lotze had to improvise.

“I shot lots of photos on my iPhone 6 to send back to the office, often via text. In the foothills, cell signals are hard to come by, and it was easier to get things out that way rather than email them,” she said. “Not only was I transmitting to my editors back at our offices in Santa Clarita, I was texting out photos to the Associated Press.”

Her photos were picked up by papers and websites across the country and around the world, including USA Today, and her hometown paper, The Tri-City Herald

“I was surrounded by photographers chasing flames pretty much everywhere I went,” Lotze said, recalling one thing that stood out: “They were all men. I was the only woman stills photographer I came across in the field. . . . Maybe there were more ladies out there, but covering all the hottest flare ups, evacuation areas, and water drops, I didn't see one.”

For back-to-back, 13-hour days in the field, Lotze worked in a brush jacket and heavy boots, loaded with gear, getting as close as she could safely get to 100-foot walls of flames. “I've never been more in my element,” she confessed.

That confidence is a huge asset in her line of work, and it was developed in part during her time at CWU.

"CWU prepared me to do almost any job at a newspaper, and to juggle several complicated tasks at once," Lotze said. "On the track team and The Observer newspaper, I also learned to take the lead and be confident in my decisions, which really helped me in covering this wildfire."

Journalism Professor Cynthia Mitchell, who worked closely with Lotze at Central, said she is a terrific example of what can happen when a grad is willing to take advantage of every opportunity that comes her way.

"In the four years since Katharine graduated, she's taken part-time jobs, paid for additional training and networked like crazy with professional photojournalists — anything that could help her toward her long-term goal of getting paid to do photojournalism full time," Mitchell said. "It's been really gratifying to see her not only reach that goal but do so well at it."

Photo: Photojournalist Katharine Lotze stands among other reporters while covering the Sand Fire north of Los Angeles in July 2016. (Greg Doyle)

Media contact: Barb Arnott, CWU Public Affairs, Barb.Arnott@cwu.edu, 509-963-2841

August 9, 2016

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