Well, I’m finally an evacuee.
Voluntarily, to be sure. No notices were issued. I was just taking an abundance of caution because, for the first time in the seven years I’ve been here, a wildland fire came close enough that I had to personally deal with it.
Tuesday morning I headed to work from my cabin at West Chewuch Road and Cub Creek Road, a bit before 9 a.m. As I rounded the “S” curve at Cub Creek, I noticed that the hillside west of the road was on fire, at about milepost 5.
It was a small brush fire in steep shrub steppe terrain, blackened and smoking in the middle with flames licking around the edges. It was advancing, slowly but inexorably, northward — toward my cabin, less than a mile away. Of course, there are other structures in between, and the fire was creeping rather than roaring, but like most people, I thought about my own situation.
I pulled over and called 911, which had already been notified but with the wrong milepost marker. I assured them that I was at the right place, then climbed out with my camera and started taking photos. Always a journalist. At that point, a couple of neighbors were poking around the edges of the fires with shovels, to little effect.
An Okanogan County Fire District 6 SUV arrived shortly. It was soon followed by a U.S. Forest Service tanker. The Forest Service firefighters went to work, methodically gearing up and then attacking the flames with hoses. Next was a service truck from the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative, sent to deal with the power pole that was in the middle of the fire.
Presently, the District 6 trucks started arriving in full force, called in from every station in the valley.
Having done my observing and photography, and not wanting to be in the middle of an increasingly busy scene, I drove back to my cabin for a quick reconnaissance. From my porch, I could clearly see the smoke just over the hill. I do have a “go” bag, packed with essentials, in my SUV at all times. But I knew I would likely not be coming back for the rest of the day, so I grabbed a bunch of what I considered important items and tossed them in the truck. You never know what you’re going to think of as “important” — is it personal, or practical? — until that moment arrives.
A few minutes later I drove back through the fire scene, by which time more red District 6 trucks had arrived. As I continued south on West Chewuch Road, I counted at least half-a-dozen more District 6 units headed toward the fire site, most with lights-and-sirens cranked up.
At that point, the scanner chatter (which I could not follow but was being relayed to me from people at the newspaper) was that the fire was contained and in mop-up. The response had been quick and impressive. A structure protection unit had been dispatched. Vehicle traffic control was set up at Highway 20 and West Chewuch Road in Winthrop. The requested air attack on the fire was called off. Thankfully, there was no breeze to speak of. As I’m writing this, the 1-acre fire is being characterized as 90 percent contained. My truck is loaded against the small possibility that the remaining 10 percent gets out of hand.
These days, abundance of caution also applies to every fire that breaks out in the valley. First responders pour in from every firefighting agency to tackle even the smallest burst of flame. It’s a determined response born out our experiences the past few years. We’ve seen it several times this week, from small fires like the one I observed to the Cutthroat forest fire in difficult, remote territory.
It’s gratifying to know that they’ll be there. Now, I’ve got to unpack my truck. Next time, if there is one, I’ll have a better idea of what to do.
UPDATE: Later Tuesday, the Chewuch Road fire was declared 100 percent contained