Photo by Erika Kar
A helicopter crew from Naval Air Station Whidbey was in Mazama last week to assist in the rescue of a couple of climbers from Goat Wall.

By Erika Kar

Friday night and early Saturday morning brought the storm that we had all been expecting. The sky was lit up in Mazama with bolts of lightning that would have been beautiful to watch, if not for the feeling of impending doom. Welcome to August in the Methow.

At approximately 6 a.m., residents of Lost River Airport Association were roused by the sound of a very large and very low-flying helicopter. It seemed to be hovering right above the home of Doug and Bonnie Simpson, affectionately known as The Paprika Palace. Their cabin is known as The Paprika Palace, not Bonnie, just in case you were confused. After a minute or so of hovering, the helicopter took off down valley. Residents were concerned that a lightning strike had produced a fire in the area and that the chopper was coming in to dump water.

However, eyewitnesses reported that the helicopter didn’t have a water bucket. There was not much time for conjecture though, as the chopper then came back up valley and landed at the Lost River Airstrip. A couple of good-looking residents, who happen to be my husband and son, hustled up there to get the scoop, along with a half dozen or so other people, who were likely equally good looking.

The helicopter was a Sikorsky MH-60 Sierra being operated by six young U.S. Navy Search and Rescue guys. This chopper is the Navy’s version of the famous Blackhawk that the U.S. Army uses. According to the Navy crew, they had been asked to come over from Naval Air Station Whidbey in Oak Harbor by the Okanogan County Sheriff to rescue a couple of climbers from Goat Wall. The trip from NAS Whidbey took approximately 40 minutes and the rescue cost somewhere between $50,000 and $75,000 according to the information that I could find about per hour cost to operate this type of helicopter.

Later in the day, it was learned that those lightning storms had indeed started some fires, 17 to be exact. At the time of this writing, some of these fires are merging into one larger fire. Thankfully, for Mazamans, no one is on any evacuation notice except for the usual mantra of “always be prepared.”

Being prepared could also mean be prepared to approach campers who have decided that the burn ban doesn’t apply to them. Despite the ban, the dry conditions, the winds and the local fire activity, it is not uncommon to see people with campfires along Lost River Road and Hart’s Pass Road. It would not be a bad idea to carry a few gallons of water in our cars to assist in extinguishing these campfires.

It is too smoky to do much outdoors right now, but the Mazama Community Club is finishing up a pretty great outdoor project that I’ll tell you about next week. It isn’t too often that there is actually too much news in Mazama. But when it rains, it pours. Let’s all hope that becomes literal, as well as figurative.