The past week or so has felt like a “Mini Me” version of the summer of 2014.
We’ve had fires, evacuations, high winds, thunderstorms, mudslides, roads closed or compromised, cough-inducing smoke, a brief cell phone service interruption, and a six-hour power outage. We are distressingly familiar with them all, if on a larger, scarier scale.
Meanwhile, we are in “know-how-you-feel” mode for the folks in the Chelan environs and at the northern end of Okanogan County. Not that such bragging rights are especially consoling, but for perspective’s sake consider that the Chelan fires topped 100,000 acres with nearly 1,000 firefighters engaged this week. Last year’s Carlton Complex Fire reached about 260,000 acres and involved 3,000 or more firefighters at times.
If we ever felt even slightly lulled into a sense of relative security, the past few days probably disabused us of that notion.
On Saturday evening — a lovely time of day, you may recall — my partner Jacqui and I were seated at a window table overlooking the lake at Freestone Inn, looking forward to enjoying our first dinner there in years. Then the power went out — everywhere in the valley. The inn’s staff did the best they could but dinner was out of the question.
Our next problem was that in what can only be described as epically bad planning, I had let the gas gauge in my truck sink down to where it was bumping the “E,” figuring I could make it back to Winthrop for a refill.
I did, to encounter a daunting line of vehicles at Pardner’s Mini Market, which was operating on a generator and processing credit card transactions via a satellite hookup. There was nothing to do but wait it out, which didn’t take all that long. Pardner’s owner Bart Bradshaw was helping direct traffic to the pump island, and everyone seemed more or less calm about the whole thing. Steve Mitchell of Rocking Horse Bakery was right behind me. I suspect that many of the people in line were locals.
Meanwhile, there was a line out the door at Evergreen IGA. Jacqui said they were letting people in a few at a time, like at a trendy nightclub. She grabbed some ice and a few other essentials — wine and cookies, I believe — and we went back to the cabin to settle in for the night. A game of Scrabble by lantern light was the high point of the evening. By the time we and the rest of the valley woke up, Okanogan County PUD had the problem fixed. A lot better than eight powerless days, wouldn’t you agree?
But events escalated. On Sunday night, the valley suddenly filled up with acrid smoke from nearby fires. A mudslide slumped over Highway 153 at the spot where a similar slide took out the home of Bob Elk and Janie Lewis last August. Verizon, which saved a lot of our hides last summer, had a cell service outage on Monday, but it was quickly resolved.
At the newspaper, we again shifted into Facebook frenzy even before the weekend, posting as much reliable information as we could as fast as we could get it and verify it. Our designer and social media manager, Darla Hussey, was responsible for most of that over the past several days, including a lot of phone calls to get first-hand accounts, and I posted a few things as well. Most of that time we were not in the office — almost all of the Facebook reporting and posting was done from our homes, from early in the morning until late at night.
We had thousand upon thousands of Facebook viewers from all over, and a lot of comments thanking us for the effort. There was the usual smattering of strange, panicky questions — or requests for instant answers to complicated questions. We do our best, but there aren’t that many of us, we don’t work 24/7 and we generate no revenue whatsoever from our Facebook postings. But overwhelmingly the comments were helpful and grateful.
All in all, it seemed endurable compared to last year. And that’s the comparison we are all living with.