Unbelievable

By: Tina Holan

I chatted casually with my mom the afternoon of July 16th.  I was aware via FB friends that there was a fire in the Carlton area fairly near my parent's home, but I was not overly concerned at that point.  Fires are taken very seriously and generally stamped out quick!  However, I was not aware that there were other smaller fires in addition to the one in Carlton that were MUCH closer to my parents.  I was completely confused and dazed when I got a call from her later that night after we had gone to bed telling me they were evacuating their house.  WHAT?!?  My husband was dead asleep after working multiple 12 hour days in construction.  Should I wake him? Shouldn't I?  I waited in bed with the phone and my iPad close by to hear some word that my parents were safely at my brother's.  When I finally reached my mom much later, it was clear that my dad was NOT evacuating.  He was going to stay and try to protect the house - all alone.  She was also worried sick about my grandparents.  No one knew where they had gone!  My parents were able to get some things out of the house (a big thank you to my brother and sister in law and also Barb Rains for coming to help) and safely to my brother's house in Pateros.  When I realized the full scope of the situation, I decided to wake my husband, who is also a trained firefighter.  He keeps his credentials active under his uncle's business, Rainstorm.  However, he had not yet gotten the appropriate paperwork in his possession for the current year.  Not knowing if he would even be "allowed" to help, he gathered up his equipment and gear and started the 2 hour trek from our home in Aeneas Valley to see what could be done.  I laid awake the rest of that night - phone and iPad handy for whatever updates were available, dozing here and there.

 

The next morning, the kids and I were just pacing around the house feeling completely helpless. We had no word on what was or was not happening.  My grandparents had been located and were safe, but we did not know much else.  My 18 year old daughter was at the tail end of a case of chicken pox, and after full disclosure about the chicken pox, we decided wild horses couldn't keep us away any longer...  I stopped in Omak and picked up food (food fixes everything, right?) as I knew there were more and more refugees landing at my brother's house who might just be hungry.  My friend Tammy came over as moral support.  We were all still feeling helpless and not getting any information, but at least we were all feeling that way together. Later that afternoon, we were desperate to know - was the house still standing?  What was happening up there?  Several of us took a drive up the Methow Valley, and were met by some deputies who were staged at Burma Road keeping people from going up.  We got a little information from them and stayed for a couple of hours watching the fire come closer and closer and waiting to hear anything!  Cell service was really spotty, and FINALLY I was able to hear from my husband that their house was gone.  He had seen it burn first thing that morning and it could not be stopped.  My cousin's house was also gone.  They were fighting to save my grandparent's home, and it was looking like they could.  I was in complete shock!  Somehow that was just not what I expected to hear.  The home that I had grown up in was gone...

 

Shortly after that (in the late afternoon/early evening Thursday), we made our way back to Pateros.  We were happily reunited with our husbands again (my husband, my dad, Tony's uncle David, and a couple of their firefighters), but things were not over...  We had only been back in town a short time when a deputy was driving up and down the streets with a megaphone telling everyone to evacuate NOW!!  WHAT?!? I looked up at the hill behind my brother's house and saw the fire making it's way DOWN the hill toward the water towers.  By this time, Tammy had gone home to Brewster, but we had A LOT of people at my brother's house who had come there for safety.  Now we had moments to gather any precious belongings from his house, get the trailers containing my parent's belongings and all of us GET OUT QUICK!!  North of town was impassable - the deputy told us to go toward Chelan.  It was complete and utter chaos to say the least.  I had "stuff" and people in my truck and so did everyone else.  My husband and kids and I decided to head up in our two trucks to Squaw Creek to help his aunt and uncle and hopefully save their home.  By this time it was clear the fire was beyond control and many homes were now being threatened.  We went up there and spent some time pulling weeds, Tony blazed a fire trail with the Cat up at the "plateau", and in general we prepared as much as possible.  Cell service was extremely spotty.  I had been giving updates via Facebook and trying to get the word out.  I remember feeling like NO ONE outside the area had any clue how dire things really were.  Resources were spread very thin and seemed non-existant.  We needed help!  BADLY!  My phone battery was getting low, so I limited my updates to texting my sister in Arizona, who would give the rest of the family and friends updates.  We heard through the grapevine that my brother's house in Pateros was gone.  UNBELIEVABLE!!  Later that night, the fire was becoming really scary, and our husbands wanted us out!  I knew they were in more danger if we stayed there, since their attention would be divided and they would be worrying about us.  If they were going to stay, which they clearly were, they needed to have laser focus on the fire, not us. I helped Barb load valuables out of their house "in case", and though it was the most difficult thing ever, the kids and I and my son's friend Timi who was a new firefighter for Barb & Dave, squeezed into my already full truck and left for Chelan.  Driving back toward Pateros that night was the scariest thing I think I have ever done.  It looked and felt like I was driving through Hell, heat and all.  Sparks were flying across the road, and I didn't feel safe no matter what I did or where I went, but we just barreled through and headed toward Chelan.  I was able to track down my parents and other family who had checked into a hotel.  We sprawled out on the floor of their hotel room, and I spent another night awake with my phone in hand waiting for any updates from my husband.  Fortunately he was good about calling every couple of hours and letting me know how things were going and that he was still alive. My husband, his uncle David, and my dad are all seasoned fire fighters who have fought many fires over the years, and they all said this was the worst and most scary fire behavior they had ever seen. 

 

The next morning, I was relieved that Tony and his uncle, cousins and a couple of their firefighters had been able to save all of their buildings and most importantly, everyone was OKAY!  What a long, AWFUL night!!  The kids and I planned to make our way back home, but the fire had now moved toward Chelan, so travel that way was no longer an option. We were rerouted toward Manson, coming out at Bridgeport.  I desperately wanted/needed to see my home town...  When I had left the night before it had looked so awful.  Rumors were flying like crazy on Facebook about buildings and businesses and homes being lost.  I needed to see it.  So the kids and I backtracked.  As we were making our way through Bridgeport, I saw two little dogs running down the road seemingly lost.  I saw a vehicle pulled to the side of the road with their door open, so I stopped to ask if those were their dogs.  They weren't, but it was Tim Harvey, the husband of one of my old high school teachers.  Kerry was with him and they had been camping and woke up to word that their home was gone.  Devasting.

 

We finally made our way back to Pateros, and driving in from the Brewster side, got a completely horrific view of the destruction...  Blocks of homes were leveled.  I made my way to my brother's place and burst into tears when I discovered it was still standing!!  All night we believed it was gone.  The fire destroyed their storage shed and fence and stopped on their lawn!  As completely devastating as it was to see all that was lost, I was equally relieved to see all that still stood.  The businesses were fine.  The school was fine.  THANK GOD!!

 

A few days later on Sunday, I stopped at the school on my way to the west side to drop some donations.  It was nice to see familiar faces and people pulling together to help.  A few days later, (exactly a week after the fire), I went to spend some time helping at the school.  But before I went to the school, I wanted to drive back up the valley and see what remained of my parent's house...  I thought I was all cried out, but I was not prepared for what I saw driving up the valley...  Remains of home after home, and the hillsides still smoking in areas.  What had been the most beautiful valley to grow up in, I can't imagine will ever in my lifetime look that way again.  It looked like a war zone!  Or the moon... 

 

So much destruction and loss - friends, family, former teachers - no one was spared.  Everyone felt it and everyone was affected by it.

 

The update on my family:  My parents are living temporarily in the Land Office in Brewster in a makeshift apartment.  They are building a new home on their lot in Pateros, and will likely clean up and sell the property up French Creek.  It is hard to imagine it ever being anywhere close to the same.  My brother and sister-in-law spent the rest of the summer in a condo in Chelan (?) while their home was being repaired (heat damage), and are now back home.  Tony's aunt and uncle were able to stay home, but lived without power for, I believe - 36 days!   Slowly, people are beginning to rebuild, but it is going to be a long, slow recovery.  After more homes lost in flash flooding after the fire, I can't help but worry about spring thaw next year...