My first memory of fear and respect for fire was as a child watching “Bambi.” It was right up there with the flying monkey forest in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” in eliciting adrenaline flow. I recently watched the YouTube video of the “Fire Scene” and had a renewed sense of my childhood fear of fire.
In the 1970s, there was a spate of disaster movies including “Airport,” “The Andromeda Strain,” “The Poseidon Adventure,” “Earthquake” and “The Cassandra Crossing.” The fire disaster movie “The Towering Inferno” debuted in 1974 just a few short years after I worked on the 41st floor of the tallest building in San Francisco at the time. The building in the movie was also in San Francisco and had a big-name cast, including Paul Newman and Steve McQueen. It was also a big-budget movie nominated for eight Academy Awards with few expenses spared on the state-of-the-art (for the 1970s) special effects and cinematography. It rekindled (no pun intended) my recognition of fire’s fury.
In late 1980, the deadliest disaster went down in Nevada history after the MGM Grand fire, which claimed 85 lives — most in upper floors from smoke inhalation. I had just been in Las Vegas earlier that year for a convention and clearly remembered walking through that hotel. I vowed not to stay in high-rise hotels.
Then along came wildfires — gigantic wildfires. Returning to my hometown in Montana for a class reunion in 1988, the Yellowstone National Park wildfires were raging. Driving through a section of the park, flames licked on either side of the road. The fires collectively formed the largest wildfire in recorded history of Yellowstone, eventually burning nearly 800,000 acres of the national park, and it burned until the snow blanketed the park during the second week of September. Thirty some years later, the positive results of the controversial conflagration confirmed that the park, its natural beauty, and wildlife could and would recover.
Here in the Methow Valley, fire is no stranger. I do not need to recount the numerous fires by name; suffice it to say, they’ve been here and have left their scars — both on the land and in the hearts of inhabitants of this beautiful place.
Today we are daily aware of the flames around us. After a very short interlude of feeling freedom from the COVID suppression, this monster reared its ugly head. Anxiety and worry well up with the shift of the wind, the rise of fire plumes, the sound of aircraft, and the air quality numbers off the charts. Quickly changing information is fortunately provided by several sources. As much as Facebook gets a bad rap for its negative aspects, it’s reassuring to read up-to-date posts from reliable sources.
The informational meeting held on July 15 at the Mazama Store courtyard was well-attended. The first request by Pam Sichting, NW Incident Management Team 8 Lead Public Information Officer, was to treat each other with dignity and respect. The audience obliged. Presenters from all of the involved agencies spoke and provided what they know, what they don’t know, and what their agency’s area of expertise is currently doing — ever-changing with the whim of the fire.
My takeaway from the meeting is that all of the hard-working fire crews are striving to direct the fire where it will not damage property, livestock or humans. Their hope is that the fire doesn’t get a mind of its own and rampage where it doesn’t belong until the snow falls.
Don’t bring them food, they say. They have enough! In our grateful community that wants to do “something” for them, it’s a different kind of request to not give them anything. However, we can give them thanks at every opportunity. Thank you, firefighters. We can’t thank you enough.