It’s not easy reading.
A preliminary report on the deaths of three firefighters in the Twisp River Fire last summer was recently published by the U.S. Forest Service and Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). As someone who has often reported on and written about terrible events in my journalism career, I can only imagine how difficult it was for the report’s authors to gather the necessary information and try to draw some conclusions from it.
In a straightforward narrative that rarely even refers to anyone by name, the report lays out what likely happened on the day the firefighters perished. It’s not gratuitous, but it does not spare any details about the sequence of events or the challenges that responders from several agencies faced that day.
It’s an account which we cannot contemplate from a distance, nor with any emotional objectivity. These were people many of us knew, fighting nearby in familiar terrain, under conditions that have become all too familiar the past two summers. Some of us — me included — have driven around the very bend in the road where a Forest Service engine plunged down an embankment and was overwhelmed by flames.
And while much of the report’s language is blandly bureaucratic, it also contains startlingly revealing passages that read more like personal dialog than third-party observations. The report is, so far, the closest most of us will come to experiencing, or even imagining, what happened in those fateful hours.
The Forest Service/DNR document is technically a Learning Review Status Report, which is intended not to fix blame but rather to help firefighting officials learn from the event to prevent similar situations in the future. It raises relevant questions as an interim step on the way to a final report that will be more detailed and offer recommendations.
Difficult as it might be, it’s important to read these reports with an open mind and sharp eye. The recommendations that result, likely months from now, may affect this community and others like it for a long time to come.
A long-term investment
There aren’t many 100-year-old businesses around anywhere, let alone in a rural area like the Methow Valley. To make it to the century mark, a business has to have an enduring reason to exist and a willing succession of owners to carry on the founders’ work. The business has to be adaptable to changing times and be blessed with good management. Family-owned businesses are especially hard to keep going past a couple of generations.
Farmers State Bank in Winthrop is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year — and half of that time, it’s been under the ownership of one family. Farmers has lasted by resolutely sticking to its simple formula of personal service and conservative strategies — while adjusting to the technological challenges that most businesses face. If feels like an old-fashioned bank, but you can also pay your bills online.
It doesn’t hurt to have banking in your blood. Even before Frank Buell and his wife, Ann, bought the bank in the mid-1960s (when Farmers was a mere 50 years old), Frank had grown up in a banking family. Those genes were passed along a couple of more times to the current heir apparent, Beau Buell Adams (his father, Ed Adams, is the bank president).
If there was ever a born banker, Beau is it. His enthusiasm for the business, the community and Farmers State’s future is infectious and genuine. That’s good news for the Methow Valley, which treasures its venerable businesses.
So from one 100-year-old institution to another, happy anniversary, Farmers State, and best wishes for the future. As the saying goes, we’re only as old as we feel.