Methow Valley News editor Don Nelson gave us suggestions for writing about last summer’s fires for this week’s anniversary issue. A fragrant bouquet of Bonnie Stephens’ flowers, purchased at the farmers market, helps reduce my anxiety as I recall “memories, thoughts, people — just general observations about how it felt and how it feels now.” As I write about how it feels now, I take frequent breaks to “smell the lilies.”
Did I go to the farmers market last year when the valley was burning? I have no recollection. I think there was a market but I don’t remember being there.
There are plenty of “this time last year” going around this week, though last week’s weather, so similar to the fire weather last July, has been replaced by cooler temperatures and some rain. That rain seems only to fall in Mazama and Carlton. Nothing from the sky but a minute or so of sprinkling has touched the ground here in Twisp.
The change of weather has dissipated the smoky haze present in the valley last week.
This anniversary week of the Carlton Complex Fire will not present the same fire conditions as were present last year. Still, friends here are crossing their fingers. Some, making clear they don’t want others to suffer as the Methow Valley did, are saying NIMBY (not in my back yard — or my front yard either).
As of this writing, 10 fires are burning in the state. The Douglas County Complex near Waterville is 22,000 acres and 55 percent contained; last year a quarter of a million acres burned in the Methow Valley.
When the valley was burning, this newspaper kept me busy and informed. I only left the house to report around town. I went to interview Alex and Christina Lopez, owners of the only eating place in town that stayed open (but for one night) during the power outage. Each morning I went to Cinnamon Twisp Bakery, where owner Katie Bristol continued to serve coffee and baked items on the sidewalk out front, and people shared the news of houses lost and horses rescued. I met Rob Brooks and his cantankerous dog for the first time at the bakery. I saw Kim Cazneau for the last time before her death at the bakery. I met my “sister”-to-be (in a Merc Playhouse production) Ronda Bradeen at the Twisp Valley Grange when she helped open a Red Cross shelter there. That shelter later moved to the Methow Valley Community Center.
As I moved around town, I came to know the harrowing stories of just-in-time escapes as properties were destroyed and animals were rescued or lost. I stayed away from Facebook after someone posted the story of the badly burned bear cub, Cinder. That story disturbed me as much as any, and I don’t know why.
My home was safe, but I seemed to take on the grief of others.
I gained a new respect for the staff of Methow Valley News during the fires. I was astounded when I watched Darla Hussey post copy via her cell phone when the power was out. Marcy Stamper and Ann McCreary worked in near darkness to produce stories that later won national press awards.
Today as I reread the papers from July and August 2014, I am amazed at how quickly the fires grew, were just about contained, and then started up again at Rising Eagle. Our newspaper reminds us in vivid prose just what those weeks were like. We were so fortunate to have this news of record last summer.
This week, Valley Life columnists were asked to reflect on the events of 1 year ago — when the Carlton Complex Fire began — for a special series reflecting on the past year and looking forward. Click to see more articles from our Carlton Complex Fire 1-year anniversary section