When The Smoke Clears
Wildfires have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My grandpa was a private wild land firefighter, both my parents fought fire before I was born and many of my cousins have worked on crews as well.
“Ahhh…the smell of money!” Was what my grandpa Frank said every time the smell of smoke would drift in. We would be prepared for any approaching fire. We knew what we would take, property was regularly back burned, trees thinned, limbed up and cut down around building. Talking about fire behavior was regular dinner time conversation.
But all the preparation, the planning, the talk; was never tested. Fires were fought away from property and people became comfortable, grew lax in their back burns, didn’t limb up quite as high as they once had. Trees were left standing closer to buildings; shade is nice you know, especially in the hot summers.
The cows munched through the scrubby hills, the orchards bloomed and set fruit, the sun rose and the river ran but it was not to be so for long. A fire was coming.
Lightning strikes nestled in timber and grass, fed by wind and fuel so dry it begged for the flame. But, this was nothing unusual. Just more fires that would cause destruction but eventually be controlled and then die away; nothing notable, one among many barely remembered fires.
These fires were not like those before them, the wind nursed them until they raged, until they made their own wind and grew into one roaring maw. So it burned and burned, man and beast alike fleeing. It flew over road, fire line, fire break, river, roof and tree top flicking off into every direction and tasting every thing in its path. It loved the taste of the homes, the memories, the tinder paper and the bubbling plastic. It so loved the taste of the old ones, the loved ones, but it so loved the taste of them all it had to go back for some. They were too sweet to leave behind.
The valleys and hills that are home to me, the places I love, burned. My grandparent’s house is the sole home standing in their valley thanks to the providence of God and my grandpa’s persistent stubborn work to keep his property fire safe. My in-laws and husband are still watching the fire behind their house, waiting and preparing for when they will have to make the decision to fight or flee. The town I went to school and lived in is half gone. Hundreds of homes have been lost, many belonging to people I know personally; friends, relatives, classmates.
I cannot understand how it would feel to look over a blackened smoldering pile of twisted metal, chard beams, bricks and disfigured appliances knowing that they are all that’s left of the place I called home. My heart breaks and breaks again for all that has been lost.
You will find no pictures of the aftermath here; there are plenty on Facebook and all over the internet. Right now I want to remember what it looked like before so when I do finally see the damage for myself, it won’t replace my good memories.
The fire may be leaving my community behind to steal everything from other people but this isn’t over yet. As the smoke clears and the last embers die the real work of cleaning up the damage and rebuilding will start. We might deal with wildfires as a regular part of life but this was not a typical fire by any stretch, in fact it’s the largest in Washington state history. My loved ones have a long road ahead of them and they continue to need help in so many ways. There are two relief funds set up through the North Cascades Bank, one by the city of Pateros and one by the city of Brewster. Those are the best ways to donate since all the money will go to helping those affected. The relief centers are also still requesting donation! There have been rumors going around that they don’t need anymore supplies and that is simply not true. What they need changes often as new donations arrive and needs arise, check the facebook page for current updates on what’s needed.
Being hundreds of miles away there isn’t much I can do to help but my heart is with them. I’m so glad to see the outpouring of support for those affected by the fire and how the community has (and continues to) come together to take care of each other. I’m totally exhausted already and I’m not doing anything but worrying! So I’ll just end this with a plea, if you can donate anything or help in anyway I will be so grateful.