SKAMANIA COUNTY — Kathy and Jon Kolstad are back at their home on Kellett Road west of Archer Mountain, but they’re still ready to leave again at a moment’s notice.
“We haven’t unpacked, we have both cars completely loaded,” Kathy Kolstad said.
The wind, they said, could shift at any moment and send the flames back their way.
“I’m still kind of apprehensive as to whether this thing is going to flare up again,” Jon Kolstad said.
The Kolstads are one of dozens of families that were evacuated on Tuesday but have since been allowed back into their homes.
The neighborhood where they live has been the subject of many evacuation notices, which over the past few days have ranged from Level 1 (be aware/get ready) to Level 3 (go now). Aside from the people who live on Archer Mountain Road west of Deville Drive, the rest of the area is on a Level 1 or 2 evacuation level.
While they’re safe for now, the Kolstads said the entire ordeal was emotional.
The Kolstads were awoken in the pre-dawn hours of Tuesday with a phone call from their granddaughter. She had been watching the Eagle Creek Fire from Beacon Rock and had seen the ember that jumped the river and ignited the fire at Archer Mountain.
They didn’t know how close the fire was until they got a call from a neighbor about a mile away who said the fire was about a mile from their house.
They sprang into action.
The couple and their granddaughter packed up their possessions that Kathy describes as irreplaceable — photos, Kathy’s father’s war medals and sets of dolls that Kathy hand-made for her grandkids.
Then, they left, staying the night on their boat, which is docked at the Steamboat Landing Marina east of the Interstate 205 Bridge.
“There was ash all over our boat to remind us what we were running from,” Jon Kolstad said.
The couple said that night away, they were bombarded with phone calls, emails and Facebook messages of support from family and friends offering up anything from places to stay to a bottle of wine. Even with the outpouring of love, the Kolstads spent a sleepless night.
“You had to leave and you had no idea what’s happening behind you,” Kathy Kolstad said. “Inside you just feel like mush. Kellett is my maiden name; my family’s been up here for 40-some years. This is home, this is home.”
When they got back to their home on Wednesday, the most worrisome thing they found was burnt twigs, leaves and pieces of bark scattered across their yard.
“If they were still lit and they get on our dead grass, they might have started up again,” Jon Kolstad said.
The Kolstads’ neighbor up the road, Jody Barrett, who had called them during the ordeal, had a similar story.
She was awakened by a call from another neighbor about the fire and her first thought was of other sleeping neighbors.
She began driving up and down her street looking for houses whose lights weren’t on. When she found them, she called or banged on their doors.
“I’m sure they’d do the same for me,” she said before correcting herself. “They have.”
Then a sheriff’s deputy came by and said they had to get out and they had 10 minutes to do so. So she and her husband grabbed some clothes and her two dogs, Juno and Sadie, and went to a hotel in Washougal. She spent the night worrying about her neighbors and wondering if her house was safe.
Now that both the Kolstads and the Barretts are home, they’re still keeping a close eye on the weather. They’re also ready to go.
“I have my suitcase packed,” Jody Barrett said.