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// a waterfall of flames | the carlton complex fire 2014

I’ve stumbled for a solid twenty minutes to even find the first word to write, but here I sit in the most darling coffee shop with electricity, a charged laptop and beautifully stained furniture and fresh food. Now let me back up just a few days to last Thursday afternoon at exactly 9 am.

Thursday – 9 am I was sitting casually at work, finishing up my first hour there, and in my “free” time I was tracking the current wildfires and their progress. There were several just powering through the Methow Valley, but nothing that was worth fretting or being concerned about.

10:30 am - My uncle left work early to head home, sending out nothing but a short subject line only email to the office, “Fires getting close to home, have to go.”

I casually thought things would be just fine so I stayed at work, going about the every day routine, eating some almonds when I got the call around noon that things weren’t looking great. The fire was inching its way towards the heart of the Methow Valley, scorching every pine tree and sagebrush patch in sight. This little fire quickly became a big fire with an even bigger agenda – an agenda that a lot of people had no idea was coming, including me.

By two pm, I left work and drove home from Chelan on hwy 97 through hwy 153 up to my house. It was just beautiful outside, the sun was shining so bright and the homes and trees in the valley were glistening from the sun, almost standing tall with outstretched arms to say, “look at me!” But ten miles north, there was a blazing inferno whispering back without anyone knowing, “I’ll be there soon.”

I stopped by my house on the way to my extended family’s property which is up the Methow Valley about 14 miles, casually checking on things and just dropping some things off. Driving up to my extended family’s  property was when my life flashed before my eyes and I was suddenly caught in the middle of what felt like a tornado of flames. I saw nothing but orange in my sight.

But then things slowed down and I spent a few solid hours up at what we call the ranch, handing out water bottles to firefighters and emergency personnel who were watching the growing blaze. Within minutes, the fire would hop from acre to acre, eating the land to its bare bones. Around 6pm, I headed back down the valley ten miles south to my house and along the way, things just felt eerie. The fire seemed to be traveling with me, dancing along the mountain tops as it slithered its way down the valley into the heart of Pateros. In my mind my thoughts were racing, “Pateros is totally fine, are you kidding me? It’s surrounded by water, the houses are surrounded by green trees, there is orchard cascading down the mountains, it’s totally safe.”

But an hour went by and the flames just kept blazing faster and faster and my livelihood flashed before my eyes and that’s when the panic set in. What do I take. What’s important. My family raced through our home tearing photos off the walls and leaving our house in disarray, taking what we thought was important. But in the moment, what is? You care about your family, who is with you. The tangible items just stand there and when something so powerful is forcing its way towards you and you can’t fight it, you run.

My family grabbed our things and that’s when our extended family arrived and we watched the flames take over the valley. It poured down the mountain like an 800 degree, destructive waterfall. By 8 pm, my family had packed our things and waited. We parked at the top of our driveway and just waited, almost like we were waiting for the flames to just extinguish themselves. But instead, it just kept its agenda.

 

No evacuation notice. Not a firefighter in sight. The fire came so fast that no one knew. Through the town of Pateros, a few cops were able to shout frantically through their loudspeakers, “Get out now!!!!” But for many, it came so fast that everything had to stay behind – animals, childhoods, memorabilia, photos. It all just had to stay and be strong, but for more than not, the flames were overwhelming. They came through the town with such rage and such force that homes just melted under the heat. For the orchardists, including my family, rows of 200+ apple bins became handfuls of nails. Homes became piles of dust. Cars transformed from reliable to a skeleton of metal.

It destroyed. Catastrophically stripped away the lifestyle that so many had adopted for well…life. Suddenly things that you once took for granted become things you would give so much to have back.

Evacuating Pateros on Thursday night at 8:30 pm, driving down the valley and looking across the river, my entire town looked ablaze. Between the flames and the smoke and the sheer panic of cars racing to beat the flames, the town was completely black. Power poles crashed to the ground and trees toppled over each other. Now those that stand on the mountains are the reminder – the hundreds of little black toothpicks are now the garland on the mountains.

By Friday morning, roads were closed and the fire still burned with fury, no word on whether homes stood or had crumbled, no word on if people were alive or the state of the valley. The only access to get home was via backroads. My family made the trek, of what should have been 20 minutes became an hour and a half. Between the panic of seeing mushroom clouds erupt over our home town and sirens echoing through the insurmountable smoke, we made our way to Pateros to be greeted by the cement foundations of so many homes that once stood, by charred trees that were once a beautiful green, by black hillsides that were once full of wildflowers, by naked orchards that once bore fruit. Words really can’t explain the emotions that overcome a person in that situation.

Four days have passed since the night that forever changed so many lives, and the devastation still builds. No one realizes how quickly life can change until it does. How quickly your lifestyle can completely be flipped upside down. You just never anticipate anything so catastrophic to happen until well…it does. It’s not like the town of Pateros & community of Alta Lake and the Methow Valley  had weekly meetings to prepare for this kind of event. For this kind of chaos. For this kind of emotional trauma and lifestyle change. For the pain and the devastation. It happened so fast. Time flashes before your eyes.

But then you begin to see the beauty. The community stand back up and come together as not just a town but a family. To watch doors open and people flood in with trailer after trailer of water and supplies, generators and food, clothes and cleaning supplies, toys and books for children, is overwhelming.

This morning, walking into the high school in Pateros to rooms filled to the ceiling with clothes and donations just made my eyes well with tears. We are so thankful and so blessed. But this town is heartbroken, there is so much to be cleaned, to be rebuilt. So many don’t know where they will lay their head tonight, where they will go to the bathroom tomorrow, what they will eat for breakfast.

I just wish I could write the words enough to give you the image of this valley. So that’s where the journey of the fire comes in…

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Watching the property at the top of my driveway burst into flames.

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A local victim surveys his property after the fire.

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The truest example of how close the fire came to the Delight home.

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The view of black mountains for miles.

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United we stand…the remains of golf carts at the Alta Lake Golf Course.

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Lawn chairs still remain after the fire blazed Alta Lake.

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The fire blazed through the orchards so fast that it singed the trees with 800 degrees of heat.

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Metal roofing blankets the remains of a truck.

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Charred water towers still stand after the fire tore through Pateros.

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Miles upon miles of cars waiting for the fire to pass and roads to re-open…

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As the aftermath and cleanup begins after this devastation, there are so many ways you can help! Feel free to send us a message and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible with the information to donate where it is needed most. <3

For more images, search the hashtags: #carltoncomplex #carltoncomplexfire #methowvalleyfire #prayforpateros

Wendy - Tears..thank you..hugs..prayers.

Brad and Donna Hankins - Thank you for sharing such a beautifully written, tragically intimate part of your life.

Sharon Eisenrich - My grandparents are buried in Twisp. They deeply loved the Methow! Breaks my heart…..

Please let me know where the best place to contribute by monetary donation is. I live in Spokane and many are asking me this very question,

May the Lord bring Beauty out of Ashes!

Sharon Eisenrich

Amanda Fisher - Very heart-wrenching post, so saddened to hear and see the effects of this tragedy! I am wondering if you know of a site I can go to to sign up to volunteer to help with disaster relief?

Johanna Grace - Oh dear Kristen, my heart aches for you and your family and everyone in your town. I am praying for everyone involved. <3

Jeff Leuschen - This is the best coverage of seen of the fires. Tragic and beautiful. Thank you so much! Twisp is my hometown. My folks still live there. I particularly like the pictures of the old irrigation system falling into the river on prisoner grade. It’s so impactful to see these old, familiar structures that I’ve taken for granted while growing up and and see them being destroyed. So sorry for those who have lost homes and valuables. Thanks for sharing these amazing pictures.

Shaina Longstreet - Reading through your experience with this fire brought tears to my eyes. My parents live in Omak and so we’ve been keeping a close eye on this thing and the wind and weather to see what’s to come. I am so sorry for your loss and the devastation you are facing. Thank you for sharing your story. Your pictures are so moving.

Jenny M. - My heart breaks for you and your town. I’m a Washington transplant to Arizona, and I can only imagine what it would be like to lose my little hometown of Lyle. Please send me information on where to donate. My prayers are with the people of Pateros.

Alice Hudson - How to donate, besides the Red Cross?

Windy Osborne - Hi there,
I live in Waterville and we are trying to find a couple of families that we may be able to help. Would like to find someone that did not have insurance and stick with them through the long hall. I have contacted a lot of people and been given a couple of names of people that I cant seem to get ahold of. I’m wondering if you might know of any families that could use our help. Thank you so much, and I’m so sorry you guys are going through this!! You can either email me or call me at 509-679-1026

Emily - Wow. Even after seeing the images, I can’t believe it. We drove through Pateros just a few days before the fire for a wedding in Winthrop. My heart goes out to everyone in the Methow Valley. <3

Marianne Henderson - Thanks for sharing your drama & the great pictures of the area where I grew up nearly 50 years ago. It must’ve been so hard on you to capture them while personally living through such devastation. My thoughts & prayers are with you all.

Mike Mauk - great recap . Thanks

April - Tears run down my face after seeing all of your photos. You captured these images as well as the emotion they hold amazingly. My prayers are with you and the people in this community. May God be with all of you in this most difficult time!

Jack Hansen - I am heartsick at the devastation, Paul and Maggie. I sit here in Southern Minnesota and look at the area of my youth. Haven’t been to Chelan since the early 80s, and Pateros since the late 70s, so what I remember is different than today – yet old and new are so gone. All I can do is send my love and thoughts and prayers to those that lost it all – my love for the home of my youth and hope that the devastation is close to ending, that the flames stop before they come south to Chelan also. ((HUGGSS)) to the people of Okanogan and upper Chelan County – to Carlton, Alta Lake, Pateros, Brewster, up the Antoine, Washington Creek, all of the Methow Valley. My soul is crying. Please stay safe.

Kimber - Thank you for your courage to enter into the destruction and “be with it as you were in your images. I’ve found that beauty can only truly come out of ashes if one is willing to sit in them, observe them, feel them, touch them, invite others to be in them and you’ve done just that. Your reflections and images are beauty in the ashes — so honoring of your story and others’. It is a gift to be invited into your pain. May the company in this tragedy make your experience of walking through it less unbearable.

Peggie Venemon - Hi–I got the link for your blog from a friend’s FB page. I grew up in Pateros–live in Pierce Co. now–and have been glued to the news sites for the last few days, watching what was happening. I’m going over in a couple of weeks to see if my old home is still standing (Beach St., one block down from Ives). Horrible, unbelievable! As your blog says, we all felt that nothing like that was even a possibility–green trees, orchards, water. I pray for those folks who lost everything. What do you think is a good donation site? I want to make sure my donation really reaches those in need. Thanks.

Emilie McGaha - Amazing words! Thank you for writing this. My dad was living in my grandparents 85 year old house south of Malott and it burned along with the house next door that I grew up in. It has been an extremely difficult time and I’m very sorry for your loss. We are lucky to live in an amazing area though.

Jill Streeter - Your first-hand account is what we all need to read. I live in Okanogan and have been helping sort donations at the fairgrounds. What I’m doing is helpful but not nearly enough. Please let me know what is needed most and where and my family and I will do what we can to help.

Mallori - these pictures are amazing and speak volumes of the devastation. I can only speak for myself, but I did not understand the enormity of the fires until seeing your photos. thank you for this and wishing all the families and communities safe, happy and healthy futures.

Karen Baughn - Thank you for sharing! My thoughts and prayers go out to you, your family and all the people who have been affected by this huge fire. I live on the “rainy” side of Washington and will be visiting east of the mountains this month and am amazed by the strength and community of the people in our state.

Mar Housley - Beautifully written, poignant story of devastation. The pictures tell it all. Thank you for documenting the loss of your home.

Tonia - Praying for you all. May God give you strength and comfort in the days and weeks and months ahead. Thank you for sharing.

Debbie Kirk` - Excellent documentation pictures of the fire. Thank you!

Teri England - You have such incredible depth of emotion in this writing . As one of so many Pateros “survivors”, how you have described the many levels of feelings & experiences helps others outside our “world” get a glimpse of just how immense & heartretching this was, is and what is yet to come.

The COMMUNITY RESOURCE CENTER set up at the Pateros school on Beach. It is the way our community has pulled together to help eachother here in Pateros & all the surrounding rural communities impacted by this monster fire storm that still rages & threatnens even more small towns & individuals.

All the folks manning this impressive HELP center are in Pateros, many who have l

Jamie - Awesome job ladies… You did a great job capturing what’s going on. Thank you.

Teri - Story continues…
Without power & intermittant cell service, I may drop off again.

Back to the folks manning the operation at the school. I can only share my personal perspective as I arrived to help on Saturday & every day since.

There were already many members of the community there, it was amazing. That is one word you will hear over & over. A core group, some who have lost everything stepped up & started what we have today. I can ‘t say enough about these folks incredible strength & faith and dedication to helping us in Pateros and all the surrounding communities!!!

Then the outpouring of GIVING, including from another small community you will remember from recent horrific news – OSO. It has been beyond overwhelming to see first hand each day. THANKS TO ALL WHO HAVE HELPED US!!!

So many individuals have come in person from far & wide to donate their time. Again, overwhelming.

And the actual donations from kids to corporations I can ‘t begin to name, has brought tears to our eyes are gladness to our hearts.

A special person (you know who you are!) started cooking meals the day after this horrifying fire storm, though their loss was multi-family. They continue sharing the “love” and we plan on preparing the meals until the need abates.

Appreciation & gratitude all around.

We are strong -PATEROS STRONG!!

Betty Pettit - Please suggest solar powered flashlights, solar yard lights, new underwear and socks for men women and kids, batteries, Pull-Ups, etc. P;ease tell people that we need no more clothing except maybe new pajamas and work boots. Shovels, rakes, etc. for sifting through ash would be useful. Check with the folks at the gym for more suggestions.

mike larson - This is heavy and incredible. Hard to imagine, but it is always amazing how things eventually do come back. please let us know if there is anything else that we can do!

- mike & rachel

Jody Brittain - It is totally unimaginable of what you have gone thru! Thank you for sharing your story and the pictures.

I will keep you in my prayers.

Melanie - Thank you for posting this heart wrenching record. I am so sad. I know our church is sending food and other items, I have a pack n play I would like to send up for anyone with a baby. I hope someone can use it!

Doug & Lianne Marsh - What is needed and where??

Lois Ellen Edwards - Hello:

My heart is breaking for all who have lost their homes, orchards, and animals, and for all the volunteers who are, and will be helping you get back on your feet. Please let me know if there is anything a 62 yo, disabled woman can do to help. God’s blessings is needed here.

Sincerely,

Lois Ellen

Carolyn Childs - My dear former mother in law, my kids’ grandma, lost her home at Alta Lake Golf Course. She backed up to the mountain. I saw her mailbox in your pic, #24. She has a lot of supportive family but I know it is such a shock, as it is for all. Thank you for posting your article and pictures. Doesn’t seem real.

Wendy Sandmann - Hi, I am looking for families who lost their home and could benefit from
an RV. If you know of anyone could you please give me a call.
Thank you so much
Wendy Sandmann, Moses Lake
509-750-9110

Charlene Knoop - I’m reading this three months after the fire and re-living that very ordinary day in our sleepy little town…until the fire swooped down and changed so much. Your written words and photos are poignant and a beautiful gift. Thank you.

Pateros Needs Your Help! | Truth, Justice, and All-American Allergen-Free Apple Pie - […] is a very powerful blog post with professional photos at Lifesong Photography’s website, A Waterfall of Flames: The Carlton Complex Fire 2014. It provides windows into the tragic and charred world of our neighbors to the east, putting faces […]

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