Only a couple of years ago, it probably could be said that most of us only occasionally thought about the potential for problematic summer wildfires — after all, we’d had a few big blazes and one tragic fire — but not many of us spent a lot of time worrying about them.
Now it seems that we think about wildfires all the time and never stop worrying about them, preparing for them and planning how to recover afterwards. Two horrific summers have permanently rearranged the way we view things.
We welcome a promising winter snowpack and then fret when a warm spring wipes it out. When the wind whips through the valley like it did a few days ago, we are reminded that fire’s best friend is a brisk breeze.
Then the prairies of Alberta explode in a vast, unstoppable fireball that drives twice as many people as live in all of Okanogan County out of their homes. I can’t watch or read the news out of Canada without experiencing a visceral reaction — that was us two years ago, and California last year, and too many other places year after year.
Last weekend, the town of Entiat on the Columbia River came under an evacuation notice because of an encroaching fire. My immediate thoughts — echoed by others I’ve talked to — were, “too close, too soon.” Didn’t we just say a grateful goodbye to fire season? We’re barely into May, still enjoying the arrowleaf balsamroot, and already we’re in full watchfulness mode.
We haven’t exactly been dormant, however, or even taken much of a rest. Since 2014, we have new organizations, new alliances, new programs, new legislation — all of it generated by our need to recover from the past and regroup for the future.
On Saturday, while Entiat was under threat, a group of regional officials and first responders met in Okanogan at the invitation of Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), who is gathering information and insight to help forge legislation she is drafting on wildfire management and operations.
Prevention is always one of the topics at such gatherings, but the discussion usually and quickly defaults to suppression. We expect more of the same. Indeed, Cantwell said Saturday, “The science is very clear about forests, and what is going to happen to them.” (See story on page A1).
Because of her experience, knowledge and devotion to issues she takes a strong interest in — like this one — Cantwell is a great ally. She’s been here, listened to people, and most importantly has not let it drop after the headlines shifted to fresher topics.
That wouldn’t be as meaningful if the region’s leaders weren’t similarly devoted to finding solutions, no matter how hard that might be or how much compromise it might require. Gathering all of those people around the same table last weekend builds the kind of unity necessary to making progress for the region. We have to be our own best advocates, because just thinking about it and worrying about it won’t get anything done.
Way past centenarian
We quietly celebrated another anniversary at the News this week. If you look at the banner on page A1, you’ll see that you are reading issue 1 of volume 113. Our “birthday” coincides with the publication cycle launched in 1903 by Harry Marble, who owned the paper for about 40 years.
There aren’t many things around here that are as old and have been in continuous operation. We take that legacy seriously and expect to continue building on it.
We probably won’t have much of a celebration this year. But if you can stick around, we may throw a pretty good party when we get to 150.