Fire season …
Unfortunately, it’s a thing around here.
No one in the Pacific Northwest is ever truly immune. Forest, deserts, harvest season on acres and acres of dusty, dried wheat fields … it’s all tinder waiting for the slightest spark.
We’ve all been holding our breath because 2020 has been such a wicked year already. But … sadly … we’re not getting a pass on this one.
Washington (my state), Oregon, California, and even my very close neighbor, Idaho … we’re all on fire.
As I sit in my “creator’s space” on this unusually warm September evening with my window open and type … all I can smell is “campfire”. Only, this would be the eeriest of campfires as I’m sure no one around me would dare to light a fire pit or sneak in one more fire for the season. We’ve been shaken too hard in the last 72 hours … the Malden/Pine City fire (if you’ve missed the news, they’re the never-heard-of-before rural towns that lost over 95 homes in just a few short hours on Labor Day) are only 30 minutes from us.
Our volunteer fire department and local farmers dropped everything and rushed to battle the blazes. As news got out, volunteers delivered water, coffee, pizzas, and other food. Posts flew across Facebook announcing that people had trucks and trailers ready to haul livestock and personal items if needed. Farmers emptied fertilizer trucks and loaded up with water. Churches in a near by town immediately opened up to provide shelter. Another town, which battled blazes of its own and lost four homes earlier that same day, gathered up water, sleeping bags, personal hygiene items and more to be delivered as night was falling.
Even as the smoke clears, it’s still hard to breath … not because of the air quality … but because of the realizations that are setting in. Friends … family … co-workers … they have nothing … in an instant they’re starting over.
That could be any of us.
And it still could be.
I had people coming to one of the tiny libraries I manage to recharge computers and use the internet. “Could I refill my water bottles?” one sweet gentleman politely asked.
He and his wife are two of several in the area out of power because the fire wiped out power poles. One person said 40 poles were down … another person responded and said, “Oh no … it’s more like 400.”
Whatever it is, several of our rural neighbors are sitting ducks of sorts … surrounded by the stubble of freshly harvested fields … continuing hot temperatures … no electricity and NO WELLS. They’re kind of helpless. Even those with generators, aren’t fully operational. The power company hopes to have power restored by Friday but there are no guarantees. Temps are climbing … we’re back in the 80’s with 90 degrees predicted by Sunday before finally cooling off next week.
I drove to Colfax yesterday – our county seat and one of the other towns hit hard with fire on Labor day – to drop off books and materials to our “mothership library” and to mourn with other staff over the complete loss of our Malden library as well as the town’s city hall, community center, fire department, and post office. Worse, our librarian there lost her home … and yet, she was already busy, finding ways to help her neighbors.
Along the drive, I couldn’t help but notice how many farms had sprinklers going full force in the middle of the day, trying to create a wide berth of green, moist ground around their homes and out buildings. (These folks, thankfully, are on a different power grid and didn’t lose their pumps.)
Out-of-control fires are yet burning to the north and west of us … likely why the air reeks like a giant campfire. Reports are coming in of more and more homes lost. And now there is news of two children in different situations who succumbed.
So … so … heart breaking.
Just before I started writing tonight, the town fire siren went off. Those who are not part of the volunteer force stepped into their yards … crossed the streets to neighbors. Where were the trucks headed? Did anyone see smoke? Is anyone saying anything on FB? Is it Malden again?
Turned out to be a tractor that caught on fire … it was quickly put out and all were safe. A local farmer told me earlier in the week that nearly every farmer he knew had problems with tractors and combines starting fires in the fields this year. “We didn’t get our August rains. That usually settles dust and chaff mid-harvest. It’s been really bad out there without that rain.”
The heart break is widespread … friends on the west side of the Cascades have had to evacuate. Densely populated areas are up in flames … even in the south end of Tacoma. Flames near the mall threatened the school where I formerly taught and where our kids attended. Last I heard, the fire was not out, but under control and the threat pass. With unusual 90 degree temps there yesterday and light winds, concerns rode high.
And then there’s Oregon … several towns wipe out … beyond devastating. Confirmation is coming that some of those fires had natural causes, but that others were set by arsonists. Suspicions of arson are circulating in Washington too. Let’s pray not. What heartless, idiot …
I won’t go there …
Back to my original thoughts …
The number of fires are crazy to fathom, but huge fires are nothing new here. I remember my father, a member of our local, volunteer fire department, being called out many times. One memory especially sticks out of him being gone for several days to a fire “over the hill” in Idaho … in the forests surrounding Potlatch.
Two or three days into it, Mom and our friend piled five kids into the car and drove to deliver sandwiches, coffee, and cold cokes to the crew.
I picture still, my dad, leaning heavily on a shovel beside our car, hardly recognizable from the soot on his face … sweat caked to his sideburns … black silver dollars under his eyes.
Few people remember that fire or talk of it any more. There have been more since … worse ones … they’re talked of for awhile … then tucked behind as we sojourn on to the next set of life’s challenges.
“We survive these kinds of things,” I remember my grandmother saying. “That’s what country people … what farmers do. They plant another crop … build another house … dream another dream.” Maybe grandma wasn’t quite that poetic or Pollyanna-ish but she said something very close to that when I asked what people do after fires and storms take everything.
In the case of Malden … that probably exactly what they’ll do.