We almost made it to August.
As the clock ran down on the last day of July, another summer month with no major fires in the valley, a grass fire was reported in the Rendezvous area — which we all know has lots of grass.
The Rendezvous can also be rather windswept. So as we listened the newsroom scanner’s earliest first-responder traffic — even though the blaze was initially described as about the size of a football field — we knew that something bigger was possible. We started paying attention.
Quite a few people live out in that shrub-steppe terrain — enough so that evacuation became a real possibility as the flames spread beyond football field dimensions and were scarily visible from many homes. Methow Valley News reporter Ashley Ahearn and her husband live in the Rendezvous, and I asked her to see if she could get some photos (she did, pro that she is). I also told her to be safe and not take risks that put her in peril. Ashley wrote a moving personal account of the day’s experiences, which you can find on page A3. Other residents contributed photos, some of which we are using in this issue’s coverage of the fire (see story, page A1), along with on-the-scene observations.
It didn’t take long to realize that a lot of resources were being brought to bear on the fire, with the intent of controlling it quickly and decisively. Nearly 100 firefighters were mobilized from Okanogan County Fire District 6, the U.S. Forest Service and the state Department of Natural Resources. As reporter Marcy Stamper learned, the air assault on the fire came from heavy tankers that dropped retardant, planes that dumped water collected at Pearrygin Lake, and helicopters with water buckets. The attitude clearly was, “send everything you’ve got.” Fortunately, at that time no other major fires in the area were drawing on firefighting resources.
As of Wednesday evening, the fire was largely contained at about 175 acres, and we phased into August with a bit of a smoke hangover but not much more.
By all accounts, the firefighting forces were well-coordinated and effectively deployed. I talked to a young firefighter from the valley — one of the first on the scene — who confirmed that, from his perspective, things went smoothly.
The community’s interest was riveted on what was happening in the Rendezvous, because we now know how quickly fire can spread under the “new normal” conditions we are learning to live with. The Methow community of care also extends well beyond the valley. Our Facebook posting about the fire registered more than 7,500 engagements, more than 80 comments and close to 200 shares.
In conversations during the past week, I’ve repeatedly heard how grateful people were for the prompt response. But we all know what August can bring, so residents remain wary and realistic. The Rendezvous Road Fire is now part of the local lore, to be more vividly remembered by the folks out there who marked its advance in real time.
90 and counting
As long as Tom Graves keeps giving birthday parties every 10 years — he’ll be 100 years old at the next one — his friends, family and people who know even a little bit about him will surely keep coming. It was a rollicking 90th birthday party at the Winthrop Barn last weekend, with good food, good company of all ages and a PowerPoint biography that filled us in on Tom’s long, adventurous life as a descendent of Methow Valley pioneers. He’s done a lot (including firefighting), and hasn’t stopped doing things. Tom still looks as natural on a horse as he ever did.
At the gathering, folks told stories about Tom and his unique take on the world. I’ve got one too. Tom used to be my “plow guy” when I lived on West Chewuch Road. Sometimes I was a bit tardy paying my bill. A couple of years ago I saw him (on horseback) at the Twisp Fourth of July parade and I asked him why he hadn’t cashed the check I had sent in payment for that service. He responded that I made him wait so long to get it that he figured he’d wait a while to cash it. Tom Graves’ unassailable logic at work.