No-Bad-DaysBy Don Nelson

The scanner next to my desk crackles almost constantly these days, with fire-related dispatches playing out in bursts of scratchy static and cryptic communication. The terse report I heard last Friday afternoon caught my attention among other hectic messages: a brush fire in the Signal Hill area, threatening a residence.

For some reason my instincts told me to check it out. I grabbed my camera, jumped in my truck and a few minutes later was on the Old Twisp Highway with a bunch of other gawkers, watching what came to be called the Rising Eagle Road Fire explode into a maelstrom that seemed to take out homes and acreage in a heartbeat. At about the same time, the original Cougar Flat Fire flared behind Pearrygin Lake as if it was annoyed by the recent lack of attention. Many residents lost power again, while others scrambled away from potential danger as evacuation notices spread in all directions.

The Rising Eagle Road Fire was apparently caused by sparks thrown from a flat tire on a trailer being towed on Highway 20. I suspect I’m not the only one to lament that nature was treating us harshly enough before we complicated things with a man-made fire. We’ve compounded unfortunate with un-smart, but ultimately the challenges must be tackled without regard to origin.

Meanwhile, the weather wasn’t done with us. Thunderstorms with heavy rain, erratic lightning strikes and gale-force winds pummeled the valley, starting more fires and toppling hundreds of trees that — hey, why not? — caused more power outages.

Then on Monday, much of the valley lost Internet, email and phone services when a fiber optic line was damaged — a sucker blow to the kidneys compared to the flurry of gut punches we took over the weekend, but still …

Although the Methow may have staggered a bit the past few days, the community’s resilience, generosity and determination are hard-wired into our reactions. At the same time, there are subtle signs of disaster-response fatigue, tinged with some “what’s next?” fatalism. People are starting to wonder, half-facetiously and half-out loud, if we are ever going to catch a break before the snows fall.

Questions about recovery — how, what, where, who, when, why, why not — pile up as an acronymic alphabet soup of agencies descends to assist us (or at least some of us). While we can try to catalog the cumulative destruction, it amounts to hundreds of individual cases with specific needs that require distinct solutions. Responsibility and assistance? Culpability and punishment? Liability and reimbursement? These are things to be sorted out over time as we all look for ways to achieve the “new normal” in the valley.

In the moment, however, there’s a perverse urgency to seizing the disaster spotlight before it fickly moves on. In recent days we’ve been visited by Gov. Jay Inslee and other top state officials, Sen. Maria Cantwell, and all of our 12th District state representatives, each one promising whatever help they can deliver. Now is the time to hold them to it, for their attentions will inevitably be drawn elsewhere as the valley’s recovery process settles into a bureaucratic slog.

Day to day, the valley remains resolute but wary. Late Monday  afternoon, the scanner informed us of a small brush fire near the intersection of Balky Hill Road and Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road. Those of us in the newspaper office flinched a bit, because we are now conditioned to take every report seriously. Okanogan County Fire District 6 dispatched a truck and dealt with the fire quickly.

Not that long ago, we might have dismissed it as just another flare-up on a 95-degree day. No more.


Previous Columns