Guest blog: Close to home - the Taylor Bridge fire
The news reports over the weekend were full of thanks for the outpouring of support for the firefighting and relief effort and requests that people stop donating stuff. If only the community could come together around fighting the larger disaster of climate change.
By Mary Shaw
For the past week it has been hard for me to take my mind
off the fire raging not far from my home in Ellensburg. The beautiful green valley bounded by sage
hills is literally turned to scorched earth. My feelings about the fire started last Monday, with annoyance that my
sunny afternoon suddenly turned dark at 3:00 p.m. The next day I became concerned
for my friend with breathing problems. She was OK, but mentioned the friends who had been evacuated and didn’t
know about the status of their homes. Day
three I felt guilty that I was working in my Seattle office, enjoying
(relatively) clean air, not doing something to help the relief effort back home. I couldn’t find any need for extra
volunteers, so my concern moved on to the lasting effects on my community and
sadness about the permanent changes this major historical event will bring.
Many Kittitas residents lost property, pets, livestock; 51 lost homes. Five hundred people were evacuated, some still are. Many were relieved to go back to intact homes…surrounded by miles of blackened landscape. My partner and I drove the stretch of 97 through the fire area yesterday and noted that many homes were saved, but trailers were generally reduced to small piles of rubble. Those who had the least, lost the most. I wonder how insurance companies treat mobile homes?
Wildfire is not uncommon this time of year in Central Washington. We often see “smoky conditions” in August weather forecasts. This one was in a somewhat settled area, some of which is shrub steppe and sparsely wooded slopes rather than dense forest, so it was surprising to see so much destruction.
Bridge fire was particularly intense and is part of a pattern of increasingly
damaging fires across the west. The growing
damage is due in part to continual development of housing in forest and other
wild areas and poor forest management in recent decades. A larger issue perhaps, is the increasing intensity
of fires due to drier conditions, widespread tree-bug infestations and more
frequent and intense wind storms. These factors
are all associated with climate change.
All 40,000 residents of Kittitas County will look at scorched landscape for the rest of this year and beyond. The once scenic float trip down the Yakima from Cle Elum to Thorp will not be the same. We wonder if the trees and shrubs will ever return. My partner commented yesterday as we drove down Hwy 97, “Wow, I remember that was such a beautiful drainage full of trees right there.” Now all the trees are dead; brown or black or just ashy sticks. We had been concerned about the impact of the wind farm on the shrub steppe habitat for birds, deer, elk and small mammals. Industrial wind turbines are the least of their worries now, I guess. Fire is a natural part of the ecosystem here, but the ecosystem was not intact to begin with, and with climate change, we don’t know if it can recover from periodic fire like it has for centuries.
As I write this, the fire is 90 percent contained, chance of spreading is low and full containment is predicted for early Friday morning. The immediate crisis seems to be over, but what will we do to address the ongoing issue? The news reports over the weekend were full of thanks for the outpouring of support for the firefighting and relief effort and requests that people stop donating stuff. If only the community could come together around fighting the larger disaster of climate change and environmental degradation.