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That Awkward Moment When You're Being Decimated by Fire

Written by Jamie Petitto

July, 2021

Click here to Donate to the Official Methow Valley Fundraising Page.

Click here for contact information to donate to the Winthrop Firefighters Association.

Have you ever watched your house burn to the ground and thought, “Oh no, not again…”?

We have. What can we say? For the last decade, the Methow Valley has been on fire.


2021 Cub Creek Fire. Source: Photography By Carolyn

We don’t know what to do. Our world is burning.

And yet we know exactly what to do: pack a go-bag with the 7Ps and get to safety, fast.

We’re at a loss for words. Time and time again, tourists forget to extinguish every campfire ember while locals forget to rid their garages of greasy rags.

And yet we continue to speak out. To share MethowReady tips. To make posts in Okanogan County Fire Facebook groups. To write an Op-Ed (say, like this one). We speak out because we are engulfed in smoke and flames here on Earth while the national news stories cover billionaires flying to space.

View of 2021 Cub Creek Fire from Seattle. Photo by Kevin Freitas.

This month, fire crews closed SR-20 (aka Highway 20 aka the North Cascades Highway). That’s a bummer for west-coasters, because now they can’t come visit us with a convenient, gorgeous drive over the newly-declared National Scenic Byway. It’s also kind of a downer for us, because now 1 of only 3 available emergency routes is closed, automatically ticking us down to 66.67% of our usual escape throughways. (Unless you have your own airplane, the only 2 options left are to take SR-20 East to Okanogan, an area which was also recently up in flames, or perhaps to journey down Highway 153 to Wenatchee, where they’ve recently contained the Red Apple Fire.)

This month, state officials closed all recreation and public access to DNR-managed lands in eastern Washington. We’re sorry for the inconvenience; we also really wanted that summer Insta-Face-Tok of our new Kona facing out towards snow-capped peaks. Instead, we’re snapping shots of a smoke-screened sun, a blood-orange moon, a sexy silhouette of another impressive airtank overhead. On top of lightning strikes and other unlucky ignitions, we suppose state leaders have a point when they say we can’t afford the addition of human-caused fires to boot.

We have hazardous air conditions – the worst in the world. 400+ when the inversion hits, 100+ when the winds pick up (although winds, of course, mean more trouble for fire conditions). Free N95 masks are being offered at our Town Halls and Emergency Services non-profits. Again.

After back-to-back federally-declared wildfires, things like acquiring N95s and DIY Air Filters are child’s play.

2021 Methow Valley fires. Photo by John Ingman.

We’ve had five Level 3 (“GO NOW”) evac orders in the last week. A Level 3 notice is the last one you’ll receive from emergency personnel – a final “grab your stuff and go,” if you will. This warning is not a countdown: there’s no indication as to whether you’ve got 20 minutes or 20 seconds before you’re in danger. Some locals choose to stick around their property until the last possible second, turning on all sprinklers and packing up every last family treasure; others have the choice made for them as they bolt to their house from work, only to see a bulldozer already digging a line between their property and the oncoming blaze.

Speaking of digging a line, welcome to our 2021 Fire Glossary, of which we’re extremely well-versed:

• Firewise – Setting up your property to be fire-averse (aka “to NOT catch on fire”)

• Level 3 Evac – Leave your house NOW (Level 1 = “Alert”, Level 2 = “Get Ready”)

• Digging a Line – Firefighters or skilled individuals use a bulldozer or hand tools to cut, scrape or dig a break in the fuel. Basically, it’s the line that separates the flames from your fireside.

• Go-Bag – the literal bag you are able to literally grab when a Level 3 Evac hits. This should contain as much of the 7Ps as possible.

• 7Ps – People, Pets, Papers, Prescriptions, Photos, Plastics (credit cards) and Phones (technologies)

Airtankers – Helicopters that are fitted with tanks or buckets, which are usually filled by dipping them in our local lakes, rivers, reservoirs, or portable tanks.

• N95 – face masks used to protect the wearer from airborne particles (smoke) contamination.

View of 2021 Cub Creek Fire from Twisp, Washington.

Our businesses are threatened. They were forced to close during the pandemic. They continue to face closures due to hiring shortages and a housing crisis. And now, again, predictably and devastatingly due to climate change. Who wants to buy a lifetime reusable bag made in Twisp or some yarn at a small business or a potted plant from a woman-owned shop when it’s unhealthy to step outside your home (or when you no longer have a home in which to put a bag, yarn or plant)?

Despite the fires, fumes and fear, we continue to support one another in the ways we still can.

Twisp’s local coffee roaster is offering free hot and iced drip to all fire crews and people who have been evacuated. Winthrop’s downtown saloon is offering 50% off their meals to the same. The Methow Valley’s central pizza spot is offering firefighters a 25% discount, while our local cinema (closed for over a year due to the pandemic) screened movies free of charge with a donation jar for firefighters. Without blinking, full-time residents and second-homeowners have given displaced friends and neighbors a place to stay, have walked door-to-door to alert/support the vulnerable, have donated their dollars and resources to ensure one’s safety or help another rebuild.

So… What can we say?

We cannot tell you to stay away. Our small businesses need you more than ever.

We cannot tell you to swing by. Y’know, for that entire list of aforementioned reasons we just wrote.

We can only tell you to help. We’ll keep figuring out what to do and what to say during this horrendous annual tradition until every last home, person and pet is safe… or decimated. We hope you’ll join us in the fight to put the fires out, both literally and figuratively.

So… What can you do? Perhaps consider donating to:

The Official Methow Valley Fundraising Page – All funds will go towards supporting any businesses affected by the fire, which includes any individuals who work at those businesses that have been displaced or lost their homes entirely.

The Winthrop Firefighter’s Association – those who continue to fight our devastating local fires.

Room One – the non-profit assisting fire victims to make sure their basic needs are met.

Methow Valley Interpretive Center – the non-profit that transformed into a fire resources drop-off zone.

Aero Methow Emergency Services – the non-profit running (Disaster Awareness).

OkanDogs – the Okanogan County non-profit relocating / sheltering dogs, horses and other animals effected by the fires.

Click here for a list of Twisp Chamber members that you can support virtually through commerce.

Want To Stay Informed? Here Are The Sites We Keep Refreshing:

Cub Creek Fire & Cedar Creek Fire Facebook Pages

Okanogan County / Methow Valley Fire Updates Facebook Group

Methow Valley News

InciWeb: Incident Information System

Air Quality Index Map

Okanogan County Fire District 6 Facebook Page

Okanogan County Emergency Management Facebook Page

Photo of the 2021 Methow Valley Fires by Barb Preston, a view from her backyard.

Jamie Petitto is the Marketing Director for the Twisp Chamber of Commerce, located at 201 S. Highway 20 in Twisp, Washington. The Chamber’s mission is to connect and promote its members to support a fun, friendly and funky community.

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