By Ashley Lodato
We thought we were prepared this time. We had limbed trees, cut brush, watered, spread gravel. We had weed-whacked and raked and shoveled. We had tuned up generators and filled up water jugs. We had consolidated our important paperwork. We had purchased fireboxes. We had updated our insurance. We had paid our bills. We had made an emergency plan for the animals.
When the call came to evacuate, we did so efficiently. Vehicles packed. Propane tanks turned off. Fuel containers moved away from buildings. A long line of cars moving in an orderly fashion down the only road leading out of the valley. A model evacuation: volunteers directing traffic at major intersections, no honking horns, no road rage. We knew how to do this, and we were, we thought, prepared. We thought we were prepared because, well, we’d been there, done that. If nothing else, the Carlton Complex had trained us well.
We thought we were prepared, but then … Tommy. Andrew. Richard. And Daniel. We weren’t prepared for that. Intellectually, maybe, but certainly not emotionally. How could we be? As word spread our hearts grew heavy and disbelief transformed to grief, and then the inevitable but futile mental bargaining process began. Were we able to turn back time, there’s not a one of us who wouldn’t have given our house and every item in it to the fire in exchange for those young men’s lives.
We couldn’t turn back time, but yet suddenly it seemed as if it were last summer all over again. As if by the flick of a switch the emotions that were just beginning to subside came flooding back, familiar inhabitants of our hearts and minds.
Indebtedness for what Tommy, Andrew, Richard, and Daniel did; tremendous sorrow for what at least three of them will never have the chance to do.
Gratitude for the mark their lives left on us.
Anguish for those they have left behind.
Respect for the awesomely tireless emergency response.
Admiration for the skill of pilots, ground crews, dispatchers, and equipment operators.
Empathy for our neighbors in Chelan, Omak, Riverside, and beyond.
Apprehension that this might be the new normal; hopefulness that it won’t be.
We’re going to get through this one just like we weathered last year’s firestorm and just like residents of Okanogan County have endured hardships for generations — by regrouping as a community, by reaching out to friends and neighbors, by reseeding and rebuilding, by remembering. We are, at least, prepared for this.