CERT Program of Kirkland, WA

Lessons Learned from the Chelan Firestorm

Monday, August 17, 2015 4:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

by Janet Merriam, Kirkland CERT Team Member: Finn Hill

On Friday morning 8/14/15, my husband and I headed to our second home in Manson, WA to enjoy a quiet weekend. We knew that there had been lightning strikes on the ridges earlier that morning, but it was only when we neared Chelan that we realized how quickly the fires had spread and that sections of the town were being evacuated. 

We made it to our home on the south shore without incident and watched throughout the afternoon as the First Creek fire across the lake from us grew from a few puffs of smoke to a major event. By early evening, homes started burning. We watched from the deck in horrified fascination as several went up in flames. We lost our power, internet connection and ability to make phone calls. 

We thought about leaving but were asked to keep roads clear for emergency vehicles. Several times during the night we got up to check on conditions and watch more homes burn. In the morning, the highways reopened so we loaded all the fridge & freezer stuff into coolers and headed back to Kenmore.   My CERT training served me well, but I could have prepared better. Here are my lessons learned.

The good things:

  • Emphasis was definitely on safety first. We continually assessed this and were never in any personal danger.
  • We had adequate supplies (food and water) to shelter in place for a reasonably long period of time.
  • I knew that the best source of info on-line was the Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page.

Areas to improve:

  • Once power and internet died, our only source of information was a battery-operated AM/FM radio. I wished I had my weather band radio with me.
  • We had only the propane-fueled barbeque grill to heat water and cook with. We will be taking a camp stove over.
  • We had no ability to recharge our devices; texts were occasionally going through but then our phones died. Needed to have a crank or battery operated charger with us.
  • We need an evacuation plan in place. Our Manson home is surrounded by irrigated orchards and has a fire hydrant right across the street, but this experience emphasizes that the unexpected can happen.
  • We had water, but needed to be judicious as we weren't sure how much the drainage holding tank next to our house could hold until it overflowed. Need to have that info in advance, also need a water filter for long-term shelter in place.
  • And finally... a cup of hot coffee was a great comfort in the morning. We fortunately had some good Via instant coffee available. Need more!

Observations:

  • The emotional impact of watching houses burn down and dealing with clouds of smoke is huge. Although we were safe, it felt like the apocalypse.
  • Sometimes, there is nothing you can do. We wanted so much to help, but could only watch. We kept busy with little chores.

Hope this is helpful to other CERTS.


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