Fire season begins
I grew up in Eastern Washington and my grandparents were all from Idaho, so thinking about summer as the fire season comes naturally to me. My first summer working as a reporter, I covered a fire that quickly burned from the Omak plywood mill’s sawdust dump through acres of sagebrush almost to the Okanogan airport, a distance of about five miles. It was a windy day, so if the fire had jumped Highway 97, both towns would have been in peril.
It was the biggest fire I’d ever seen at that time, and the first time I watched airplanes drop fire retardant.
Naturally, I interviewed the fire chief afterward to ask about the damage.
“No damage,” the chief said. “Maybe a few fence posts.”
I think he was fooling around with a rookie reporter, but large wildfires are the rule, not the exception, in the Okanogan.
But not around Clark County. I am hoping we won’t have to cover any large fires this year, although the weather suggests otherwise.
I have to admit, covering fires is interesting. The agency in charge generally sets up a fire office, which is staffed by public information officers able to give you an update, with new information generally around 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. after the fire is assessed by the management team. Depending on the danger, sometimes the fire boss will allow media to visit a fire line to make photos and talk with the firefighters. Once or twice, I drove out to the Omak Airport and interviewed the air tanker pilots through the cockpit window of their DC-6 as ground crews loaded retardant.
One thing I quickly learned is that you need to be very careful not to get ahead of the fire. Luckily I never found myself in this position, but you can bet that if a fire gets moving around here, I’ll be telling our staff to stay safe first and report the news second. It’s not safe to drive the back roads to get a better view of a rapidly moving wildfire, even if the road doesn’t appear to be closed.
One of the angles on big wildfires that fascinated me was the fire camps that are established, flourish for a few days, then vanish. Oftentimes they are established at a small town high school, so firefighters can camp on the soft grass, enjoy the showers and use the kitchen. There are also commercial vendors who supply these mobile facilities on short notice. I even wrote a story one time about some entrepreneurs that sold souvenir T-shirts at the fire camps. What a unique summer job that was!
It’s been almost 40 years since I kept boots and a yellow Nomex shirt in the trunk of my car all summer. But if a major wildfire breaks out in Clark County, we will be ready to bring you complete coverage, online and in print.