Thursday, July 10, 2008

Eastern Washington: A State of Emergency

I've heard a lot of sirens today. We've had high winds all across the Inland Northwest, and they've caused downed trees and power lines. Additionally, there have been a number of fires, both wildfires and incredibly, suspicious structure fires. A three-alarm fire at a business in West Central Spokane was the first big news of the day, in what officials believe was arson. The high winds caused authorities to shut down traffic in the area so that fire crews could contain the flames.

When I went to pick up my daughter from work at 6 PM in North Spokane, we noticed that traffic was at a crawl on the small arterial in front of her workplace. Only an hour earlier, two blocks over on the larger arterial, a motorcyclist had been involved in a head-on collision. He died shortly after. Police had rerouted traffic from that street to the one by my daughter's work while they investigated. In addition, there were four garage fires right by that same street. I am wondering if the motorcycle-automobile collision was caused by rubber-necking drivers who were distracted by emergency crews or vehicles attending to those fires. UPDATE: I was right.

My son, daughter, and I went out to dinner with their uncle's family to celebrate our niece's birthday. As we drove home, we noticed dark clouds of dust? smoke? to the southeast of us, in the Spokane Valley. When we arrived home, there was a message on my answering machine from my sister. She was preparing to evacuate herself and her three young boys because of a wildfire in her neighborhood (that was the smoke we had seen). They were going to her best friend's home, and in her message she said that her cell phone wasn't working too well. I attempted to call her and when I couldn't get through, I called her friend. While I was on the phone with the friend, my sister texted her friend's cell phone and asked her to tell me to call our parents. My sister's cell phone was able to send and receive text messages, but phone service was sketchy. Neither my sister nor I was able to reach our aunt, who lives only a few blocks away from where the fire had started in a gated community at the foot of the Dishman Hills.

I called my parents who live in the mountains north of Colville in Stevens County and spoke with my dad to let him know my sister and nephews were okay and where they were going to stay. He had also been unable to reach my aunt (his sister). He said the power was out at their home and trees were down all over the county. There also had been wildfires here and there around Colville, but they were small ones and nowhere near their home. However, there are wildfires in the area around Kettle Falls, further west.

My children's father, who works out in the valley, called and we discussed the fire near him. It was about three miles southwest of him, so not a danger, but he said there was another small one to the north of his work location.

Next, a friend of my dad's called to ask if my sister and aunt were all right. I updated him on the news and he told me that about a dozen huge trees were down in the city park in Colville. I was able later to view photos of this on one of the local television stations. I was just up in Colville yesterday, speaking to the Northeast Washington Genealogical Society on a beautiful, calm, hot sunny day, and drove by that very park with its stately Ponderosa Pines and Douglas Firs.

At last, I received a text message from my sister as she was leaving her home. She had been watching TV and saw my aunt checking into a local high school which was set up by the Red Cross as an evacuation center. At least four homes have burned in that neighborhood, and of course, we have no idea whose they are. The fire is still out of control, although thankfully, temperatures are dropping as well as the wind. Earlier, a number of firefighters had to use their fire shelters because the firestorm was hopping around so much they couldn't safely retreat.

The governor has declared a state of emergency for Spokane and Ferry Counties, and the Stevens County commissioners have also declared a state of emergency for their county. Thousands are without power from the Canadian border down to close to the Oregon border. Northern Idaho is also suffering fires and winds; portions of Interstate 95 have been closed. Photos and videos of these stores can be viewed at KREM2.

I'm very grateful that all my loved ones are safe.


Thomas MacEntee said...

I am so glad everyone is safe - there is nothing more frustrating when technology breaks down during natural disasters - it can be nerve wracking.

Sending good thoughts your way,


Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

It's good to know that everyone is safe. I hope all of their homes and possessions are spared. I'm thankful that I live in a place where natural disasters are so rare that we hardly give any thought to them. The anxiety and emotional roller coaster must really take a toll.

Ruth said...

Wow, that's crazy, especially the arson fires. People are just NUTS sometimes! I hope you and your family get through all this in one piece, and hopefully your homes, too. A few years ago, my parents' home in Colorado was threatened by wildfires. Pretty scary! We were having problems communicating with them, too, which really makes things frightening!
Ruth Stephens

Miriam Robbins said...

Thomas, I remembered you have cousins over in Post Falls...hope they are out of harm's way.

Apple, we don't have a lot of natural disasters in this area, although we did have a terrible Firestorm in 1991, started by someone being careless with a burn barrel, I believe.

Ruth, there's been at least one arsonist doing his dirty work in this city for two or three years. A beautiful new dorm was nearly finished with construction when it was torched over a year ago. They have just finished rebuilding it.

Thanks for your comments, all.