September 19, 2012 | LXXII, No. 25

Extreme fire shows it takes a community to survive

Letters to the Editor

As a type 2 incident management team was leaving the area Sunday and the local fires are contained and final mop up is being done -- 81,000 acres worth -- it is time to reflect on what happened locally and thank all the citizens, visitors, DOT workers, police officers and fire fighters for their hard work, sacrifices and patience.

As a fire fighter and chief, there were a lot of emotions the last week. The greatest is relief that no one received major injuries during this fire. A resident from the fire area did suffer a broken leg, and a couple fire fighters suffered some second-degree burns. Some longtime homesteads did burn, along with a home people were moving out of. A lot of ranchers lost a portion of their ability to make their livelihoods. These are all things that hopefully the individuals will be able to recover from.

I want to thank everyone for their patience during their personal inconveniences. Some were greater than others, but in some way this fire probably affected everyone. We asked a lot of some people and I want you to know the decisions to evacuate houses and close highways were made with great deliberation and thought but were based on life safety. It was much easier to work a fire and make decisions when not having to worry about lives in the path of a fire or extra traffic on a road. When travelling through above the canal Sunday night, making decisions about how to stop the fire if it turned toward town, it was comforting to know that we “only” had to worry about houses, property, and fire fighters. We could shift some crews and resources to assist Coulee Dam firefighters where the fire was impinging on houses, city hall, the motel and other businesses. Not all decisions are popular, and not all are made for outright obvious reasons.

This was not a normal fire for the area, with super-dry fuels. Mother Nature decided we needed to work again as fire fighters, when three lightning fires were sparked on Saturday early evening. The fires were hit hard that night but were not giving up. By Sunday afternoon when they blew up, with winds up to 45 miles per hour pushing them, they escaped from initial control and raced east toward Coulee Dam and Grand Coulee. It did not take long to cover that distance, enough time to gather local resources to protect the more scattered residents, but then towns were in the way and the extra resources requested the normal way were twelve hours away. More calls were made, more local resources came and further resources from all over Grant and Okanogan came quickly to assist.

The fire was stopped in Coulee Dam, the fire stayed a quarter of a mile from Grand Coulee, and a lot of resources showed up on Monday and Tuesday to take over for the exhausted local resources. Meanwhile, life went on, albeit interrupted and a little different; school opened, business went on while supporting the fires and the triathlon came to town. Life now is back to what is normal again, the fire departments are back to recovering from this major incident, reviewing this incident and preparing for the next.

The residents and ranchers affected are dealing with putting their property back into a useable condition and making plans for the future.

This fire was not much different than the one on the Elmer City and Coulee Dam side less than a month earlier. The fires stretch our local resources, and help comes and leaves, and life continues. As fires continue to rage in other parts of Washington state, we can take time to rest and yet be vigilant that until significant rains appear there is still a very major threat of another wildland fire. Please be careful, and thank you for all the support you gave the firefighters and your neighbors through these emergencies. It takes a Community to survive.

Richard W. Paris , GCVF Chief — on behalf of all the local chiefs and fire fighters

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