Northwest Wildfires…Where There’s Smoke
The Northwest is on fire. I can smell it in the air. Smoke. It’s in the light of the sky. Ten O’clock in the morning and the sky still has the yellow pallor of dawn. My Facebook page holds images of landscapes on fire, charred homes and businesses, neighborhoods back-lit by flames and billowing clouds of smoke. And the faces of three young men who died in Eastern Washington.
They were soldiers in a vast army of men and women who are on the front lines fighting the beast. They are the fallen heroes in this summer’s war–which has many fronts and many simultaneous battles–The Canyon Creek Complex, The Chelan, The Okanogan–as one fire burns into another fire. One hundred square miles and 36 homes in Eastern Oregon, and the fire burns on, merging with a fire to the northeast to threaten more homes and ranches. People are opening gates and cutting fences to release livestock to fend for themselves, heartbreaking, but for some, it’s the only chance they’ve got.
The incident reports for one fire alone are sobering: Total Personnel: 559. Size: 86,412 acres. Structures lost: Chelan County: 67. Douglas County: 17. Multiple residences and structures in and around the town of Chelan remain threatened. Level 2 and 3 evacuations are in place. Infrastructure effects include power outages, limited power, and possible impacts to Goat Mtn. Communication Site. The Complex now includes the Reach fire, Black Canyon fire, The McFarland Creek fire, the Eagle and the Antoine fire. [Chelan Complex. inciweb.nwcg.gov/incident/4538/]
Fire upon fire. Fire multiplied. Firefighting at peak effort. As I write, there are Soldiers from the US Army in training to join their Forest Service brothers and sisters in the battle. Watching them learning to take cover under their personal fire screens brings the fallen back to mind. Their comrade in Harbor View Medical fights for his own life. So young, so valiant, so tragic.
For the first time ever in Washington State, there are plans to mobilize citizen volunteers into this army of firefighters. Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Northern California, Alaska, British Columbia. There is nowhere in the Northwest that hasn’t been battered by the drought and there is nowhere that is not at risk of being scorched.
I’ve received a text from my friend, a high level employee with the Forest Service. The Canyon Creek Complex fire is the #1 fire fighting priority in the nation. Her home is in the area. We made our home there too, for seven years. It was frightening to see the photographs and read the reports last week as the lightening strike caused fire flared up and swallowed 26 homes just over the ridge from our old neighborhood. I could see our neighbors homes in the foreground of photographs, the smoke billowing up just over the next ridge. I worried about our old friends, their homes and their livestock.
Wildfire close by. When we lived there, it was our worst fear. It was in the arid quality of the air, the land, the hills all around us. Summers there planted a cautious awareness in the back of our minds. People shared worried expressions but no words at the sound of the fire siren. For me, it was an uneasy existence, and we eventually returned to the west side of the mountains and it’s moderate maritime climate.
But this year’s drought has made people uneasy everywhere, and every drop of rain incites prayers for more–to no avail. I don’t know how much of my beloved Northwest will be scorched and how much will be spared this year. The fire season started early and is far from over. The smoke and haze reaches over the mountains and into our back yard. And so does the fear. I’m back to living an uneasy existence. One that I hope is short lived and not the beginning of something bigger than all of us.
Meanwhile, the soldiers are in the battle for the long term. The smoke is part of them now and they are a part of it. I pray there will be no more victims among them. I pray for the families who have lost so much and are still surrounded by the enemy. I pray for the fallen and their loved ones. And I pray for rain. Harder than I ever have before.