A glance at the clock this morning told me it was time to get up. But something was amiss. The bright sunshine which has greeted us most mornings this summer had taken temporary vacation. Gray light filtered through the blinds. Overcast skies threatened rain…needed, of course, but not particularly appreciated. We’ve been spoiled!
On the other hand, most of us like variety. Daughter Lenora in Tucson, Arizona, called yesterday to say that it was cool enough to leave the house and sit on her patio. For her, that was cause to celebrate!
Here in western Washington, we comment when the wind kicks up. Evenings we stand at the window to enjoy the interplay of setting sun, clouds, and salt water. We love storms, too. At dusk recently, we walked down the street, marveling at the light show going on in dark clouds over the Cascade foothills. The sky above us was clear, the thunder too far away to hear, but the show was better than fireworks…and just as dangerous in our dry forests.
(One of many lightning-caused fires smolders in the western foothills. This one is too small for serious concern but officials keep an eye on it.)
On the east side of the Cascades, wildfire is a constant hazard. This summer a number of lightning-caused fires sent firefighters from all over the state to try to save property. Friend Carolyn and her husband recently moved to Omak in the northern part of central Washington. They love it there, but in two years they’ve watched two fires from their home.
Here’s what she wrote about the most recent conflagration:
“We saw it begin this afternoon. Three little tan wisps of smoke curled slowly into the sky behind the hills in the west. They didn’t look like much, just a bit of smoke that would soon disappear.
“A couple of hours later, the sky began to take on a grayish cast. Joe tuned into the sheriff’s radio frequency. Bits and pieces of conversation crackled. Fire units called to Buzzard Lake. Evacuations likely. Old Highway 97 closed.
“We looked to the west again. A burnished orange glow backlit the hills, with smudgy brown clouds billowing above. A brisk north wind blew the ugly clouds toward the south. By supper time the orange glow became a neon light on the hilltop. The entire sky turned brown and gray and white. Dusk deepened as the orange glow pulsed, turning red, back to orange, then fading only to reappear and begin again, all the while moving behind the hills to the south. Monotone voices on the radio droned about road closures and shifting firefighter units. They gave directions for citizens seeking evacuations.
“Since we worried that some of our property might be in the fire’s path, we hopped into the truck and headed south on Highway 97,parallel to what we thought was a fading fire. Out beyond the town, the sky turned black. Then the acrid smell of smoke began stinging our lungs,and cinders and bits of blackened foliage floated down in front of the truck. About 6 miles south, we couldn’t believe our eyes. A jagged line of red orange flame exploded out of the night and burned angrily down a steep hillside toward an access road. Looking above the fire to the top of the hill, we could see a second line of fire streaming down the other side. Black smoke billowed above flames which looked like molten lava.
Credit: Al Camp/The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle
“Enough. We turned around and headed home. We are grateful for professional firefighters who have gotten all residents safely out of harm’s way, for family and friends who have taken them in, who are monitoring the flames and doing all they can to protect livestock and property. Nothing else can be done till morning.”
Several days later, Carolyn wrote:
“By Saturday morning, the flames on this side of the hills had been extinguished. A layer of smoke like cotton batting lay over Malott (a nearby town) and wrapped around the hills. The fire now had a name–the Oden Road fire. Two residences and a vacation home were destroyed.”
By Tuesday, Carolyn said, the fire was mostly out, with only a smoky haze still drifting up and down the valley.
East-siders and “coasties” alike, we’re much aware of the hazards of wildfire. As we watch the current destructive fires overrunning hills and residences in southern California, we are grateful for the sacrifices of firefighters and others whose work keeps us safe.