Photographer Gains Hero Status as He Shoots Flames, Provides Live Updates

Over the last few years I’ve noticed some stunning photographs that captured some incredibly dramatic north-state fire moments. With each new fire season, I started to pay extra attention to one particular name that kept popping up: Mike Daly.

Mike Daly photo by Adam McAllister of KRCR.

During the Carr Fire, Daly not only took fire photos, but he took it upon himself to drive into active fire areas to provide live Facebook coverage of neighborhoods’ status. This was a huge comfort for those who’d been evacuated and were waiting for word about their homes.

Sometimes, Daly reported good news, that a home had been spared. Other times, it was the worst news; that a home was lost. But with Daly’s reports, people knew one way or another. Many of Daly’s posts had thousands of views, and just as many shares. Following Daly’s reports, his Facebook page was flooded with outpourings of support and gratitude for Daly.

Daly gained a reputation as a photographer who would sometimes go where many feared to venture. Soon, the Carr Fire took Daly’s recognition as a freelance photographer to a whole other level.

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“Beyond grateful for this guy… Mike Daly… and his wonderful, tireless coverage of our area. I’ve never met him, but boy do I hope to some day,” wrote one person on Facebook.

and …

“Instantly started following his coverage. Very sweet man. Just watched his seven minute update. I feel bad that he’s feeling bad that he couldn’t go to everyone’s house for them,” wrote another.

The degree of gratitude grew so great that many people encouraged Daly to create a GoFundMe page to help compensate him for the time, travel, effort and risk he invests on his quest to take photos and videos in some extremely dangerous situations, and then share them on Facebook.

Carr fire update 7-28-18 8:33pm

Posted by Mike Daly on Saturday, July 28, 2018


If the name Mike Daly rings a bell, you might recall him here on some years back in a story about his son, Mason Daly, an accomplished and enterprising violinist.

Last week I caught up with Mike Daly, initially to ask permission to use one of his Delta Fire photos.

Remains of trucks that were abandoned and caught fire on I-5 in Northern Shasta County during the Delta Fire on 9/5/2018. Photo by Mike Daly.

He granted us permission to use his photos, but the more we chatted, the more I wanted to know more about Daly, and I thought you would, too.

Join me in welcoming Mike Daly to as we talk with the man behind some unforgettable videos and photographs that have kept us informed about the Carr and Delta fires.

Photo by Mike Daly.

Mike, welcome to I know you’re busy, so I especially appreciate your taking the time to talk with me.

I also know you’re 47, you live in Redding, you’re married and you have five children.

The Daly family’s 2015 portrait.

Prior to the Carr Fire, you were probably best known in Shasta County for your freelance sports photography, but that’s not your official day job, right?

Right. I’m a union electrician, in my fifth year in the IBEW 340 JATC ( Joint Apprenticeship and Training Committee) program.

In the realm of your photography, you have been a sports photographer for a few years now. Can you tell a bit about that, and how you got started?

I’m on my fourth year as a sports photographer. It started when our daughter was a freshman at Enterprsie High as a cheerleader. She was on the team for four years. I’m not a sports fan, and didn’t know much about football. But I knew that if I was going to the football games, I wasn’t going to try to take pictures of our daughter cheering from the stadium seating. The next couple of games I made my way to the field.

Mike Daly in the background, wearing a green jacket, photographs a Shasta College football game. Photo by Tony Hord.

From there it was history. From football I started basketball. I enjoy photographing basketball the most. Being indoors after photographing a season of football is a nice change.

I can imagine!

Mike, I’m trying to remember when I first really sat up and took notice of your fire photos; but it’s been a few years. When did you start taking fire photographs, and how did that come about?

I started around 2008 when I bought my first digital camera. I would go and photograph a lot of police and fire calls, and would sell the photos to a local paper. But it started getting me depressed, seeing traffic accidents and people hurt all the time. So I stopped, and I put my camera away until I started doing the sports photography.

So I would say I’ve been taking photos of the last five fire seasons. This year was a game-changer for me; I think because of all the Facebook live feeds and videos that I did; not so much for any of my photos. There are a lot of pictures from fires over the years that I haven’t shared.

I watched many of your live feeds and videos, and was completely captivated. You were calm, and you reported what you knew first-hand. But what often struck me about your photos was an awareness of how close you had to get to the fires to capture those photos, closer than many other media. How do you explain that?

Photo by Mike Daly.

I think it goes back to sports photography. You need to shoot tight. You need to to see players’ faces and their expressions. You have to try to get a shot that you won’t see anywhere else. So to do that you have to be close to the action. As far as other media getting close to the fires, I’m sure it a liability thing, with whatever news media outlet is out there. Most reporters kind of stay out of the way of the fires. Here in Redding, I know of only two other full-time staff photographers and videographers who really go as close as I do.

Adam McAllister of KRCR videotapes a recent Shasta County fire. Photo by Mike Daly.

I should add that you are recognized and authorized as a freelance press photographer by law enforcement, so you have access to areas that the typical lay photographer wouldn’t. Technically, you work for yourself, and although you sometimes receive payment for a photo or video, mostly, you’re uncompensated. Even so, some news companies and publications have republished your photos without attribution. How do you feel about that? Can you explain for people who don’t know the rules, how it works?

I have always given my photos for free for non-commercial use. All my sports photos I’d taken I’d never charged parents or kids. People are going take what you put out there on the Internet. It’s a battle that other photographer friends and I battle with every day. It’s not worth getting all worked up over it. At least for me its not.

As far as commercial use goes, whoever uses a photo that wasn’t taken by that person or that doesn’t belong to that person should have the ethics to give credit to the owner of the picture. A lot of people think that just because a photo doesn’t have a copyright mark on it means that it’s free to use. That’s not true. Federal law and federal case law protects the images and author of that media from the time you press that shutter button. You don’t have to have a copyright on a photograph for it to belong solely to the photographer.

True enough, but I notice that many of your photos do have your name on them, which I hope helps protect your work.

Photo by Mike Daly.

OK, in order for your to capture these incredible fire shots, it means you must go to where the fires are. Can you share any particularly frightening recent moments? 

The one that I would say was a concern for me was from the Carr Fire. I was on Keswick Dam Road heading east from the dam. I got to the back side of the firestorm. I was trying to head to the Keswick Estates area. They were still doing evactions on Lake Boulevard, and there was no way that I was going to make it going from where I was on Eureka Way to Lake Boulevard from downtown Redding. I could tell by the fire activity that I was right there. They last thing you want is to stay in one spot when you have fire or flames coming over the top of your vehicle. I have a full size SUV, and it took me me a little longer to turn around than I wanted. I had posted that video on Facebook.

Posted by Mike Daly on Friday, July 27, 2018


The biggest thing is to make sure you always have an “out or safe area” to get to. I knew that my “out” was just about 100 feet back. But you really have to be aware of what’s going on around you at all times. Keep your head on a swivel.

Keep your head on a swivel. That’s a great policy.

You, your photos and your video updates have gained an almost cult-like following by thousands of people who have a huge appreciation for your work, to the point where a GoFundMe account has been set up as a token of people’s thanks. How did that happen?

I think after being asked from about 10 people. I just did it. Then it was one less thing that I didn’t have to worry about.

What have you learned about photographing fire?

Always watch your surroundings and have “outs”. Safety is the one thing you can mess up on.

How do you keep up with emergency fire updates?

When you are at a fire, they use “Tac channels” – and that’s where I can gain a lot of information about the fire.

Mike, I know your family and friends are proud of you and your work.

Mike Daly’s family made signs of appreciation for him.

Even so, I cannot imagine how frightening it must be for them, too, to know you’re out there by yourself, getting information to provide public fire updates. I have to ask: How does your wife feel about your fire photography?

Let’s say I’m not well-liked when I get home. She has gotten used to it a little. But she still doesn’t like it.

Mike, if I put myself in your wife’s shoes, I can’t say I blame her.

Thank you for allowing us to publish your photos on, and of course, when we do, we will always give you attribution. But most of all, thank you for all you do to keep the north state informed during some of our most stressful times and darkest hours. Stay safe.

Click here for more information about the Mike Daly GoFundMe fundraiser. 


Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke of the Czech Republic. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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2 Responses

  1. Avatar Beverly Stafford says:

    Great interview. Mike is an unsung hero to most of us to who look at just the photo and not the “by-line.” I’ll pay more attention.

  2. Hal Johnson Hal Johnson says:

    This was a great spotlight on a hometown hero.