Thursday, August 14, 2014

Good Fences - Vinyl Meets Fire

Near the town of Methow, Washington, is a pretty little horse farm with white vinyl fencing for their pasture. The recent firestorm left their farm fairly intact except for where the fire burned close to one of their fence lines. As you can see, the fencing didn't fare very well against the heat and is not quite good fencing these days. The good news is that the horses were safe.

Linking to TexWisGirl and her Good Fences meme.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Perigee Moon

Taken last night from my viewpoint at our local airport (wide open spaces!). The moon is orange because of the smoke from our wildfires.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

InSPIREd Sunday - Trinity Episcopal

I really like the looks of this church in Litchfield, Minnesota.

Linking to InSPIREd Sunday - a meme each weekend sharing religious architecture from around the globe.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Firestorm 2014 - The Aftermath

This shows the overall progression of the Carlton Complex fires (from InciWeb ); over 250,000 acres burned; 3,000 plus personnel at peak of fire; 300 homes lost. As of today, 8/8/14, fire is still burning in some areas and is 91% contained.

Progression Map - Carlton Complex

The pictures say it all.

Smoke in the air coming up Hwy 97 towards Pateros

What's left of a telephone pole

Another destroyed pole

Yet Another Pole Destroyed by Flames

Power Company to the Rescue!

Lost Home

Remains of a couple of vehicles

Former Gold Creek Fruit Stand

Fire Retardant (Red colored areas)

Glimpse of Fire Retardant near Balky Hill

Survivor among the blackened landscape (and the Power Company at work!)

Burn Area

More Burn Area

Missing Guard Rail Posts

Burnt Fence Poles

Pateros Sign at Site of Large Sign that Burned

Smokey Bear Survived Not Too Far from Pateros Sign

A Small Glimpse of Fire Camp at Liberty Bell High School, Winthrop

Guess what? It's not over yet.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Firestorm 2014 - Part 2, The Inferno

Friday morning, July 18th, I woke up and first thing I did was check my fire sites. What had happened while I was sleeping?

MODIS - Carlton Complex - 7/18/14 @ 3 AM

A majority of the news stations were reporting on the fire sweeping through the town of Pateros and the Alta Lake area, burning down several homes in the process. Not much mention was made about the fire and the damage farther north. The day before, the Seattle stations were talking more about the smaller Chiawaukum fire near Leavenworth than the Carlton Complex fire that quickly turned into Washington state's largest fire in history. Now they sent their reporters to Pateros to survey the damage and interview residents. Even the governor showed up.

The fire was showing no signs of abating. It kept growing and growing! 

MODIS - Carlton Complex - 7/18/14 @ 7 AM

I was at work trying to concentrate but failing miserably. I was very concerned about what was going on near home. The fact that I hadn't gotten any texts or calls by the normal time was also making me super anxious. Get some work done? No way, I couldn't focus on that.

I turned to social media - facebook and twitter - searching and asking for information on what was happening fire-wise in the Twisp area. Info was very limited. Not reassuring at all!

Finally, around 11:15 a.m., I got a call from home. I thought the phone lines were down because I tried several times to call home with no success. It was a huge relief to hear George's voice, but the relief was short lived. Things were not looking good.

I started mapping out a plan for getting home from the Wenatchee airport the next day. Highways 97 and 153 heading north were closed and so was Highway 20 from Okanogan. The only way into the Methow Valley was Highway 20 from the west side of the Cascades, an 8 hour, 350 mile detour made worse by the fact Highway 2 heading west from Wenatchee was closed due to the Chiawaukum fire and there was road construction on I-90 near Seattle. Traffic would be horrendous! I would have to check road closures before departing Seattle for Wenatchee and hope for the best.

We made plans to touch base later in the day and I tried once again to get some work done. My travel plans had me spending the night in Fargo, North Dakota before flying out the next morning. I received one more short call from home on the drive to Fargo before radio silence once again set in. Now the phone lines and internet were definitely out. 911 service wasn't even working in the valley.

At the hotel in Fargo, I went back to monitoring my fire websites and social media for updates. MODIS showed the fire creeping closer and closer to Twisp. I knew residents had been put on Level 2 evacuation notices including where our house was.

Meanwhile, the fire was also raging east towards the towns of Malott and Okanogan and Level 3 notices were issued. Were the firefighters ever going to be able to get a handle on this inferno?

MODIS - Carlton Complex - 7/18/14 @ 7 PM

I finally went to bed, fraught with worry, and it was yet another restless night.

Saturday morning dawned bright and beautiful in Fargo. I had an hour or so to kill before going to the airport and I remembered a church in West Fargo less than ten miles from where I was that I wanted to photograph. It would take my mind off of the fires at home. How ironic that during the night, the church caught on fire due to an apparent electrical issue. The interior was gutted and there was some minor damage on the exterior. (I googled this once I got home to see why a fire truck showed up while I was photographing the church from the other side of the fence. It had been called in for a hot spot inside.)

Back in the Methow however, the fire continued to threaten Twisp. I learned after getting home the approaching flames could be easily seen from our house as it burned on Balky Hill across the valley floor. I also learned that several fire trucks were positioned on the edge of town facing the fire ready to pump out a wall of water to protect our tiny town. They were fire engines from the west side of the Cascade mountains and were geared for fighting structure fires in cities, not brush trucks that can go off-road like we have locally. Regardless, these firefighters that came from all over were doing what they could to save homes and lives.

MODIS - Carlton Complex - 7/19/14 @ 7 AM

By the time I landed in Seattle in the early afternoon hours, conditions were improving. At some point during the day, a DC-10 air tanker was brought in and laid down a line of retardant, providing a much needed fire break for the Cougar Flats fire in the Balky Hill area and also east of Twisp.  You can see in the snapshot below the red disappearing from the Cougar Flats fire. I do not know if the air tanker assisted with other areas of the fire.

MODIS - Carlton Complex - 7/19/14 @ 1 PM

I checked for road closures before departing the Wenatchee airport. Highway 153 had re-opened although there was a question about Highway 97 south of Pateros being closed again due to blowing ash affecting visibility. I took a leap of faith and went for it. Luckily, the highways were open and I made it safely home. Driving up valley on 153 was heart wrenching. The landscape was completely changed from when I drove down through there just six days earlier. It made me cry.

Upon reaching home, I burst out in tears once again, my nerves shattered from the past few days and grateful to be home with George.

Next, the aftermath.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Firestorm 2014 - Part 1

It all started so innocuously; a text and a picture of a smoke column rising on the distant horizon.

People think of Washington State as green year-round with lots of rain and a temperate climate. In some areas such as Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula that is an apt description. East of the Cascade Mountains it is a different story however.

We live in a small valley along the eastern slopes of the North Cascades in North Central Washington.  The Methow Valley is like much of NCW - prone to wildland fires. Grass and sage covered hillsides that were covered in snow during the winter rapidly turn brown in hot, dry summer conditions.  Bark beetle infestations have damaged a lot of the forests in higher elevations leaving acres upon acres of dead trees.  Wildfires are something you live with and prepare as best you can in case one breaks out. There is even a Smokejumper base about five miles from our house.

I was working in Minnesota when the first text from home arrived on the morning of July 15th. A storm with dry lightning had passed through the day before and as usual started a few fires from lightning strikes.

“ Texas Creek is blowing up. ..Had to jam on the Jeep’s brakes at the fire station as a brush truck was leaving all lit up and siren blaring. Smoke column is visible from the house.”

Smoke Column from Stokes Road Fire

We’ve seen similar columns of smoke before but generally the wildland fire crews from the various agencies will react quickly if the fire is in a populated area.  Who responds depends on if it is on U.S. Forest Service, Washington Department of Natural Resources, county or privately owned land.

Because wildland fires are a way of life, I have several fire-related websites bookmarked so I can keep up the latest information. One of the sites I use frequently is a fire detection map from the USFS. This map depicts fire activity as detected by MODIS over the last 6, 12 and 24 hours each day, and cumulative fire activity detected since the beginning of the calendar year. Sure enough, the fire was showing up on MODIS. At that point, it was called the Stokes Road fire (near Texas Creek area).

A second possible fire was reported in the Carlton area later in the day along with a third fire north of our house.

MODIS Snapshot from 7/15/2014 @ 5 PM

Another valuable site I monitor regularly is a wildland fire forum website. I relied heavily on the information being posted since most of it is from people associated with or very familiar with wildland fires. Our fires were rapidly growing due to high air temperatures, low humidity and windy conditions. Level 3 evacuation notices (which means get out NOW) were being issued to homeowners in the Stokes Road, Texas Creek and French Creek drainages. Resources including air support were being mobilized from another large fire that was winding down near the Wenatchee area to come help fight these new fires in the Methow Valley.

By late afternoon the four fires (yes, there were four now - Stokes Road, French Creek, Golden Hike and Cougar Flat) were being called the Carlton Complex fire and were going to be managed as one large fire.  Chatter on the forum became very active with reports from the fire areas.

Throughout the rest of the day and into the evening I checked the websites to see what was happening and relayed updates to home until it was time to go to bed.

I started off my next morning, July 16th, by checking the fire map and the other fire websites.

MODIS - Carlton Complex Fires - 7/16/14 @ 3 AM

I also received more texts and pictures from home. This time the smoke column from Cougar Flat was visible from our front door.

Smoke Column from Cougar Flat Fire

Throughout the day into the evening, I kept checking my fire sites and getting updates from home. The Cougar Flat fire was growing rapidly as the winds pushed it farther south down the valley.  Our house is situated on the opposite side of the river and the fire wasn’t of immediate concern, just something to keep an eye on.  The fires near Carlton were still growing as well.

By the next morning, July 17th, the fires had exploded in size.  Cougar Flat was roaring, Stokes Road and Golden Hike fires had merged and was close to merging with the French Creek fire. The firestorm was underway.

MODIS - Carlton Complex Fires - 7/17/2014 @ 3 AM

Smoke from Cougar Flat Fire in the Early Morning Hours

Another View of the Smoke at Sunrise

Cougar Flat Fire Blowing Up in the Morning

Level 3 evacuation notices were going out to more areas in the valley throughout the day. Firefighters were having a hard time due to extreme fire behavior.  Mother Nature was definitely not cooperating as the temps were nearing triple digits. Structures were already being consumed by the hungry flames barreling down the valley.  The main highway south out the valley was shut down as the fire jumped the river and the road.

By late afternoon, the power in the Methow Valley was shut off when the Cougar Flat fire jumped the main highway highway going east out of the valley and burned close to the main transmission lines. If firefighters needed to be in the area, the power company didn't want to exposure them to live wires. It didn't take long for the fire to reach the power poles and burn up several miles of lines.

Cougar Flat Fire Moving to the South & Destroying the Power Lines

My stress level was starting to rise as the fires grew in intensity. It is bad enough dealing with a wildfire. It is compounded when you are far away and can only pray that things are okay at home.

The Stokes Road and French Creek fires finally merged and continued the destructive march down the valley towards the towns of Pateros and Brewster along the Columbia River. Residents of both towns were given Level 3 notices to get out quick!

MODIS - Carlton Complex - 7/17/14 @ 7 PM

The fire finally reached Pateros by nightfall leaving a swath of devastation in its wake. And things weren't over yet.

Not only was there no power at home, all communication services with the exception of Verizon Wireless went out. No landline long distance calls, no internet, no AT&T wireless, no text messages -- just silence. It was going to be a sleepless night for me as communication with home ceased in the nighttime hours.

What would the morning bring?

Saturday, August 2, 2014

InSPIREd Sunday - Sts. Peter & Paul

I have so much to be thankful for. It has been another couple of fire-related stress-filled days here in Washington's Methow Valley. Yesterday, another significant fire started two miles from our house. Fortunately, the wind was blowing away from us but other homeowners were not so lucky. Then today, a thunderstorm rolled through our valley with lots of lightning and high winds which led to several downed trees and power outages. We were one of the homes that lost power but no damage from trees. Power returned just over an hour ago. The lightning did trigger several more fires to go with the ones already burning here. It has been a very bad fire season so far and we still have a few months to go. But enough fire updates (I promise to post pictures soon).

Today's InSPIREd Sunday church is Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church in Richmond, Minnesota. Again, the spire was spotted in the distance as I traveled down the country highway enroute to the airport in Minneapolis.

Linking to InSPIREd Sunday - a meme we do each weekend sharing religious architecture. Come join us!

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