Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Before, During, and After

So I likely haven't mentioned exactly where I live on the blog before. But the story I'm going to share today lets that little secret out of the bag, so here it is. I live in Okanogan County, in Washington State.

On the east side of the Methow Valley, towards the south.

The east side that has been devastated by the so-called Carlton Complex wildfire.
Last official acreage I saw had approximately 250,000 acres burned. I can't even fathom that many acres. Except I can. It is almost the entire forest I know between here and my husband's work, between here and the larger town we stock up in once a month or so. Much of the forest is black. Moonscape. Charred beyond recognition.

Approximately 300 structures burned, I'm not sure if that is inclusive of barns and outbuildings or not, as in the last couple days as deputies were finally able to get around and drive the roads to check on houses, and that number doubled from 150 to 300 overnight as they realized the extent of the damages.

Luckily, three times lucky to be exact, our house survived. The gardens, apart from pig-caused damage due to loss of electricity for over a week, survived also. The chickens and pigs are doing well too. But the rest, the riparian along our little creek, the forested north-facing hillslope, the sage-brush dominated south-facing hillslope, charred beyond recognition in most places. The pines just north of our house by the pullout, torched (and responsible for the second attempt on the house).

At least three of our neighbors, one being a part-timer, have lost their homes. Two in the initial roll through as the Cougar Flats fire steamrolled south aided by high winds and extremely hot & dry conditions, and ended up on top of us, prompting a very short notice level three (get out right now) evacuation with no other notice than the smoke plume getting closer and closer behind the hills to our north. The other may have been due to a poorly set back burn, which also almost took our place out.

We were so very lucky in that my husband was able on Friday to go to the house and see if it was still standing from the huge fire that forced evacuations Thursday late afternoon, and his presence is honestly the only reason why the house is still standing. He witnessed the secondary fire come down the hill slope just to our north. Torch the large pines. He left, as the fire spotted across the road, melted our old white fence, approached the house, and as he was thinking it was all over, that it was just too dangerous and hot, and with only him, luckily at that point a neighbor and two locals out sightseeing drove by, and together the four of them went back and saved it, running buckets of water from our (luckily gravity fed thus still functioning without electricity) irrigation water, and the neighbor (who lost his house later that day, although he is a part-timer so it wasn't his primary residence) offered the use of his mini excavator to run lines around the house to stop any more fire from slowly burning grasses up to the house.

Then the same friend who helped us load a second vehicle of our possessions in the moments before we had to evacuate on the day before, came down and helped my husband finish up, get the animals into safer locations, complete the lines around the house and fields. And then the fire picked back up, spotted way across the alfalfa field to the south hillside, and they had to leave quickly as it got too dangerous yet again. My husband drove to me and the girls thinking that it was done, that the house was sure to burn.

But it pulled through, all their work paid off. The house was still standing Saturday morning. We were so lucky to have those neighbors, friends, to help us. We stayed with those friends for 2 days after we were evacuated, before I couldn't handle the constant stress of fires all around us, constant huge mushroom clouds of smoke southwards in the direction of our house and my husband's work, and the constant noise of the airplanes and helicopters flying overhead as they were fighting the fire. I then left with the girls and dogs to the other side of the mountains to stay with my sister-in-law and her family live. We stayed there a week, and returned on the weekend, to see the house for the first time in 9 sleeps. To see my husband in the first time in 7 days.

We are fine. Shaken, mourning, overwhelmed at times, but overall we are grateful to be alive, to have our house, to be ok. The community is rallying, moving from disaster, crisis, on into recovery, repair. We are so thankful for our friends, our neighbors, our family, the firefighters and first responders, and so heartbroken for those who lost their homes, their possessions, their livestock to this fire.


  1. Oh my gosh, Katy. I'm so sorry y'all are going through this nightmarish experience. Prayers to all who are dealing with this very difficult event.

    1. Thanks Daisy. It is amazing to see the community pull together.

  2. I can't believe how close it got to your home, without burning it. Such a scary experience. I can't even imagine. I was checking your IG daily, hoping i didn't see a post that you lost everything. So glad you didn't, but also feeling so bad for those around you that did. Did you let your chickens and pigs loose? Did it get your garden's? Thank goodness for your husband and neighbors. What a community. Glad you are now on the other side of this....

    1. thanks bethany :) Both gardens are ok, chickens and pigs were let loose in the side garden (yikes! they ate/rooted the herb area pretty much to nothing!). Neighbors cows were down in our middle field and even got into the yard through some open gates it seems. Turkeys have been hanging out in the yard a lot since too :)

  3. I found your post from The Homestead Barn Hop - thanks for sharing your pictures. My husband is hotshot (wildland firefighter) and he just returned home after 10 days on the Carlton Complex.
    Sending happy thoughts your way as you move forward.
    Lea @ www.adropofthis.coom


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