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A supplement to The OmakOkanogan County Chronicle July 15, 2015


Page 2 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA

County residents fight back Many who losts homes and outbuildings were uninsured or under-insured The Chronicle PATEROS — In July 2014, the Carlton Complex fire roared through Okanogan County, consuming hundreds of homes, barns and outbuildings in a place where agriculture is the backbone of the economy, supported by tourism and recreation. The wildfires also destroyed forests, habitat, hundreds of miles of fencing and hundreds of head of livestock. But people are fighting back, rebuilding their homes and their lives in the wake of the largest wildfire in state history. In all, more than 400 square miles – an area four times the size of Seattle – burned for weeks. The fire blackened a region that produces apples, cherries, timber, beef, wines and other goods that all of Washington—and the world—enjoys. Of the hundreds of homes that burned, almost half were uninsured — a common occurrence in remote rural locations, where insurance is often unavailable or prohibitively expensive. Many homes were beyond fire district boundaries; still others were uninsurable because they were built before modern building codes. In addition to losing their homes, many survivors also lost tools, farm equipment, orchards, pastures, vehicles and personal possessions. In a matter of hours, lifetimes of work were reduced to rubble. Electrical, telephone and

Firestorm: The Road to Recovery 2015© The Omak-Okanogan County Chronicle Owned and operated by Eagle Newspapers Inc. 618 Okoma Drive, Omak, WA 98841 P.O. Box 553, Omak, WA 98841 Roger Harnack, Editor and Publisher Dee Camp, Section Editor Teresa Myers, Advertising Manager 509-826-1110 • 800-572-3446 • 509-826-5819 fax www.omakchronicle.com Cover photo: George Pearson and Carol Hamshaw hug in the fire’s wake. Photo by Teri Emery

Sue Gessel

Sue Gessel’s former home is reduced to ash and twisted metal by the fire.

Sheila Corson/Special to The Chronicle

Volunteer Dusty Wilson, left, helps Sue Gessel work on a composting area at her Alta Lake home in April. Gessel’s home was one of several dozen destroyed at Ala Lake during the Carlton Complex fire. telecommunications infrastructure was damaged, as were irrigation lines, Pateros and Brewster municipal water systems and Pateros School. Following the fire, a heavy rain created massive mudslides that demolished still more buildings and cut off access to small businesses along the highway. The

mudslides also destroyed roads, irrigation systems, electric infrastructure and other property. The Federal Emergency Management Agency approved disaster relief for public agencies, but denied aid to individuals and business. The people of Okanogan County —

assisted by a network of faith-based and other community-minded nongovernmental organizations — are rebuilding their communities, while simultaneously working to be better prepared for future disasters. While the fire still burned, residents in the fire area – aided by people in surrounding areas – formed three long-term recovery organizations and an umbrella group, the Carlton Complex Long Term Recovery Group. The recovery group, operating under the fiscal sponsorship of the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, created a county-wide network of disaster case managers to assess individual needs and help survivors create individual plans for recovery. An Unmet Needs Committee began meeting weekly to review and approve

See Fight 3


2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA — Page 3

Fight from 1 requests for financial and other types of assistance, funneling donations to those without other means of meeting needs for everything from dentures and hearing aids to home furnishings and tools. When spring 2015 arrived, so did crews of volunteers from churches, colleges and AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps to help cut and clear burned trees, remove ash and trash, replace burned fencing and plant hundreds of trees. The recovery group set a goal of building 40 homes for people with no or little insurance who had no other means to rebuild. Several homes are under construction. “From the devastation we witnessed last summer to the new home construction we’re witnessing now — made possible by volunteers and donors — we are excited to see the ball rolling,” recovery group Executive Director Carlene Anders said. “To lose everything — and then to see it restored, simply out of kindness — is tremendously humbling and inspiring,” she said. “I don’t really have the words to say what getting a new home means to me,” said survivor Rebecca Zion, whose unplumbed, off-grid homestead burned to the ground, leaving only the woodstove standing. “I’ve never been in a position to receive so much from people I’ve never even met. They’re giving me a home; and they’re giving me even more than that.” Yitzhak Ben-Harush, an Israeli immigrant who is also getting a new home, said he has been so moved he plans to devote the rest of his life to helping others the way he has been helped. The 40 fire survivors whose homes will be rebuilt — providing a $4 million capital campaign is successful — must meet criteria established by the recovery group to ensure they have clear title to the property, contribute their own resources to their home’s construction and will live in the home as their primary residence for at least five years. The recovery group has launched a $4.3 million campaign to raise the approximately $3.6 million still needed to buy materials for the homes. The remaining funds will employ three disaster case managers through the end of December 2016 and pay the organization’s temporary staff and operational costs. The group has already raised roughly $1.6 million of the $4.3 million goal.

Carlton Complex Long-Term Recovery Group

Yitzhak Ben-Harush’s previous home was surrounded by lush pines and brightly colored wildflowers. The Carlton Complex fire reduced his home to rubble (inset). He’s being helped to rebuild by the Carlton Complex Long-Term Recovery Group and has vowed to help others.

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Volunteers line up with Rebecca Zion in front of her new home.

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Page 4 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA

Contractors stay busy with rebuilding The Chronicle OKANOGAN — Local contractors, carpenters and manufactured home dealers have had a more-than-busy year following last summer’s wildfire that leveled 237 homes and 53 cabins in four school districts. “We’re currently working on a project that we actually built in 2006-07,” said Kathy Olson, whose husband is the owner of Ty Olson Construction. “It was flattened, so we’re rebuilding that.” The Olsons, based in Tonasket said their crews have done some debris removal and continue to tackle new projects. It’s a similar situation at S&H Manufactured Homes Inc., in Okanogan. “After the fire broke out there was a lot of ambulance chasers,” said Bryan Smith, whose parents own the Elmway business. “We made the decision not to not try to take advantage of people,” he said, noting some people suggested the business heavily market and advertise its services.

We made the decision not to try to take advantage of people ... Usually houses are produced in order, but victims moved to the front of the line. Bryan Smith

” Smith said fire victims were treated with priority when purchasing their homes. “Our manufacturer was putting our fire victims” first, he said.

The vacation home of Rose and Mike Uffelman, of Montesano, takes shape this spring on North Star Road near the Chiliwist.

Dee Camp/The Chronicle

“Usually houses are produced in order, but victims moved to the front of the line.” Overall, the bulk of his fire victim-customers came from the southern part of the county. “We did take houses down for people who lost their homes,” he said. “We spent most of our time in the Pateros and Brewster area. “So from it all, whether it was with the new homes or with what we’re doing now, we have stayed busier than normal. But, there’s better ways to stay busy.”

Firewise gains momentum Methow folks seek home assessments The Chronicle OKANOGAN – The Okanogan Conservation District has been actively helping folks become “Firewise.” “In the Methow Valley there’s been a lot of interest,” Okanogan Conservation District Education and Outreach Coordinator Kirsten Cook said. “I’ve been working my way though a list of 75 folks who asked for individual” assessments, she said. Firewise is a project of the National Fire Protection Association that encourages local solutions for safety by involving homeowners in taking individual responsibility for preparing their homes for the risk of wildfire. Since last summer’s Carlton Complex fire, Cook said there’s been an increased interest. “There’s definitely good interest right now,” she said. “Outside of Winthrop, Pine Forest is getting recognized” as a Firewise community. According to the Firewise website, you can help protect your

home before fire strikes: • Clear leaves and debris from gutters, eaves, porches, decks and patios. This prevents embers from igniting your home. • Remove debris, vegetation and anything stored underneath decks and within 10 feet from houses. • Screen or box-in areas below patios and decks with wire mesh to prevent debris and combustible materials from accumulating. • Remove flammable matter such as firewood stacks, propane tanks and dry vegetation within 30 feet of your home’s foundation and outbuildings, including garages and sheds. • Prune trees so the lowest branches are six to 10 feet from the ground, as wildfire can spread to tree tops. • Keeps lawns well watered and maintained. If it’s brown, cut it down. • Dispose of lawn clippings and debris. • Inspect roof shingles or tiles. Repair or replace those that are loose or missing to prevent ember penetration. • Cover exterior attic vents with metal wire mesh no larger than one-eighth of an inch to prevent

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sparks from entering the home. • Enclose under-eaves and soffit vents or screen with metal mesh to prevent ember entry.

We salute the resilience of those who continue to rebuild their lives! Come in and see us first for: • Truck and auto sales • Tune ups

• Parts • Brakes • Lube/Oil • Detailing • Rentals


2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA — Page 5

Carlton Complex by the numbers Fire began ................................................................................July 14, 2014 (four fires, later merged into one; Aug. 1 Rising Eagle Road later added to complex) Fire cause ......................................................................................Lightning Acreage burned, total ......................................................................256,108 Forest Service ...............................................................................80,564 Bureau of Land Management .........................................................6,157 State...............................................................................................70,215 Private ..........................................................................................99,082 Square miles burned ..............................................................................400 Percent of county land burned ................................................................7.6 Deaths .........................................................................................................2 (medical conditions during fire; one a heart attack, the other from a fall) Cattle killed (estimated) ..............................................................700-1,000 Homes destroyed ....................................................................................237 Brewster School District ......................................................................17 Methow Valley School District............................................................36 Okanogan School District....................................................................53 Pateros School District .......................................................................131 Cabins destroyed.......................................................................................53 Assessed value of structures lost Brewster School District ...................................................$2.82 million Okanogan School District....................................................$5.4 million Methow Valley School District ..........................................$4.97 million Pateros School District ....................................................$14.67 million Greatest growth...............123,159 acres during a nine-hour period July 17 Estimated speed, at peak ............................................3.8 acres per second Okanogan County dispatch calls, July ..............................................14,066 Normal month ....................................................................6,000-7,000 911 calls, July........................................................................................4,218 911 calls July 14 .................................................................................446 911 calls July 15.........................................................................400-plus 911 calls July 16.........................................................................400-plus 911 calls July 17 ...............................................................................1,041 911 calls July 18 ...............................................................................1,186 —Sources: Washington Department of Natural Resources, Okanogan County Assessor’s Office, Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office

Information: www.carltoncomplexrecovery.com

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Page 6 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA

Resilient history revealed by fire View of blackened trees brings a new sense of grief By Peter Goldmark Special to The Chronicle CHILIWIST — A few weeks ago, I stood at the top of Three Devils Road, in the heart of the devastation wreaked by the Carlton Complex fire, and looked across the valley. I saw hills spiked with blackened trees, almost as far as the eye could see. Under the glare of the June sun, I felt a renewed sense of grief for the loss of homes and forestlands taken by that firestorm, which had destructive power and speed unmatched in Washington’s wildfire history. As I looked closer, I saw grass and wildflowers on some of the hills. Proud, old “yellowbelly” Ponderosa pines, native to our region, were standing burned, but alive in their groves. Local contractors were collecting some of the salvageable timber for sale. Many homes had already been rebuilt and other home sites showed construction activity. Some metal roofs and other “Firewise” improvements were in evidence, showing that residents are taking the right approach to protecting their property from wildfire. While the people and the landscape will always bear the marks of the Carlton Complex, the cycle of renewal that we know so well here in Okanogan County has begun. A map of the most recent fire history of the region shows how just much of the landscape has

In the time since I entered office in 2009, I’ve seen firefighting budgets stagnate, despite growing needs and worsening fire conditions. Peter Goldmark

” known fire over the last 14 years. Whether you make your living from the land, live in town or rural areas, wildfire is a fact of life in the county. Years of persistent drought and warm weather mean shrub-steppe grasses flourish in spring, only to die and become fuel by early summer. Trees are weakened and more susceptible to insects and disease. Ailing forests become flammable “tinder bombs,” ready to ignite from a human-caused spark or lightning strike. As Washington’s elected commissioner of public lands, I have responsibility for the Department of Natural Resources, which manages 5.6 million acres of state-owned aquatic, forest, agricultural and rangelands. As part of that responsibility, I oversee the state’s major wildfire fighting force, which protects 13 million acres of state and private lands. In the time since I entered office in 2009, I’ve seen firefighting budgets stagnate, despite growing needs and

worsening fire conditions. At DNR, we have done our best to make the most of every scarce dollar, including building helicopters used for initial attack out of surplus military components, instead of spending money on new ones. With last year’s catastrophic fire season and weather trends in mind, I asked the Legislature for $4.5 million to help us increase the number of wildfire crews, engines and helitack crews. My goal was to add to our stock of pre-positioned engines, crews and helicopters in areas of the state where wildfire is common, areas like the Okanogan. I also asked for $20 million for necessary forest health work to get rid of dead-wood fuels, make forests more fire resistant, and help communities and residents clear out flammable materials around their homes, via the “Firewise” program. At the end of June, after the budget dust settled, I was bitterly

disappointed to see the Legislature had failed to provide the resources to meet these basic and essential public safety requests. The new budget provides only about $1.2 million in extra fire suppression and $10 million for forest health over the next two years Instead of spending relatively modest amounts up front to make forests and communities more fire-resistant and provide more engines and crews to stop fires becoming large, expensive and destructive, the Legislature essentially opted to pay much more later. Last year, after our state’s worst fire season ever, the bill came to $73 million. That total does not include the untold damage done to those whose property was devoured by the fires. With DNR’s existing resources, we are doing our utmost to attack wildfires aggressively and quickly, while keeping the highest priority on the safety of the public and our firefighters. We expanded our firefighter training and conducted

preparedness outreach meetings in Brewster, Twisp, Omak, Colville and other fire-prone communities during the first half of 2015. We worked with local legislators and community members to create legislation that allows private citizens to take prudent action if a nearby fire threatens their property. We added another helicopter and contracted for two additional air tankers to strengthen our initial attack. Okanogan’s fire history does not have to be its destiny. All who call this special place home must understand how fire has shaped the land, and how we can be best prepared to confront the likelihood of wildfire. As the state fights its way through another tough wildfire season, I believe the resilience of our people, our landscape and our firefighters is strong enough to meet the challenge. Peter Goldmark, a native of Okanogan, is the state’s elected commissioner of public lands. He was a volunteer firefighter for Okanogan County Fire District No. 8 for more than 30 years.

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The scarred landscape from the top of Three Devils Road.

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2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA — Page 7

15

YEARS OF WILDFIRES

Department of Natural Resources

The map shows the locations of fires handled by all agencies in Okanogan County from 2000 through 2014. The largest fires — Carlton Complex, Tripod, Thirtymile, Needles and Farewell among them — have been in the Okanogan Range between the Okanogan and Methow valleys.

Carlton fire eclipses Yacolt Burn as state’s largest The Chronicle OKANOGAN – The Carlton Complex fire eclipsed a 112-yearold record to become the largest wildfire in state history. At 256,108 acres, the fire was larger than the previous record holder, the Yacolt Burn of Sept. 1113, 1902, in Clark, Cowlitz and Skamania counties. It also has destroyed more homes than the Yacolt fire, 237

destroyed in the Carlton Complex compared to 146 in the Yacolt fire. The previous record holder killed 38 people. Two people died of injuries received during the Carlton Complex. Several other large Washington wildfires have occurred in or partially in Okanogan County: Rocky Hull, 2000 – 9,404 acres; 37 homes lost. Thirtymile, July 2001 – 9,324

acres; four deaths, 14 injuries. Rex Creek, 2001 – Chelan and Okanogan counties, 50,000 acres. Gamble Mills (Brewster Complex/Virginia Lake Complex), 2001 – 5,550 acres. St. Mary’s Mission (Virginia Lake Complex), 2001 – 32,980. Virginia Lake (Virginia Lake Complex), 2001 – 36,680 acres; one injury. Bailey Mountain, (Virginia Lake Complex), 2001 – 3,164

acres. Goose Lake (Virginia Lake Complex), 2001 – 1,283 acres. Deer Point, 2002 – Chelan and Okanogan Counties – 43,375 acres; five structures lost. Quartz Mountain Complex, 2002 – 12,144 acres. Fawn Peak Complex, 2003 – 81,343 acres; four injuries. Needles, 2003 – 21,300 acres; one structure lost, five injuries. Isabel, 2003 – 4,535 acres.

Williams Butte Complex, 2004 – Chelan and Okanogan counties, 1,257 acres. Tripod Complex, 2006 – 175,184 acres. Oden Road, 2009 – 10,000 acres; two homes and several outbuildings lost. Barker Mountain, 1985 – 60,000 acres, 19 homes lost. St. Mary’s Mission Road, 2012 – 16,853 acres; two homes and several outbuildings lost.


Page 8 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA

Animals: County develops a plan Four-legged evacuees will get help from new EARS team By Dee Camp The Chronicle OKANOGAN – Last summer, as people fled the Carlton Complex fire, some of them had animals in tow – from cats and dogs to horses and goats. Then-Pateros Mayor Libby Harrison loaded her daughter’s goats into the car as she and her family fled the flames that eventually destroyed their home. Yarnell Jennifer Johnson’s family took their small pets with them to a motel room and parked their horse with friends after fleeing their home in the Chiliwist. Fellow Chiliwist residents Ron and Sandy Morris stayed at their home after firefighters advised them to leave because of their two horses, one mule and two dogs. They eventually loaded their animals and escaped. In another area of the fire, horse owners reportedly weathered the flames in a green pasture while hanging on to their animals. Once people reached safety, they were faced with where to board their animals. Veterinary clinics filled up fast. A few motels

allowed small animals to stay with their owners. Friends and family took in some critters, but there wasn’t a planned, centralized way to deal with evacuated animals. “Since the Carlton Complex fire, I have been working very closely with the Department of Emergency Management to improve our readiness to provide animal-related services to the citizens during disasters,” Okanogan County sheriff’s deputy Dave Yarnell said. Along with regular patrol duties, Yarnell is the Sheriff’s Office’s designated animal control deputy. A draft plan has been formulated, but hasn’t yet been finalized. “I am working with (emergency management) to identify designated emergency animal shelter locations throughout the county, with a backup location if need be,” he said. “I give a lot of credit to him” for putting together the plan, Sheriff Frank Rogers said. This spring, Yarnell provided emergency animal shelter training to all three local animal rescues, The Nourishing Hand Animal Rescue for livestock animals, N.O. Paws Left Behind Rescue for dogs and Animal Foster Care/OK SNIP for cats. Each relies on volunteers to provide services. “Out of those volunteers who attended the training, about half have applied to be part of the Emergency Animal Response Services team,” or EARS, Yarnell said. In an emergency, the volunteers would form a task force, with

Yarnell as task force leader, to set p the emergency animal shelter. A shelter manager would work with leaders and volunteers from each rescue group. EARS trailers, a supply trailer, command center and stock trailer would provide equipment and work space for the emergency shelter in the event a building is not available, he said. “Many supplies were donated during the Carlton Complex fire and more afterwards, but a lot of equipment such as livestock panels, feeding buckets, water containers are still needed,” he said. During the fire, the Okanogan County Fairgrounds, 175 Rodeo Trail Road, served as an emergency shelter for horses, donkeys, sheep and goats, volunteer Kim Goodall said. The Omak Stampede also provided a place to lodge animals, but within a couple days those animals had been transferred to the fairgrounds. Yarnell said he’s been authorized to provide additional training to EARS volunteers using the Community Emergency Response Team training manual. “More volunteers are always needed, but to qualify for an EARS certification the applicant must already be an active member of one of the local animal rescues,” Yarnell said. “Each rescue leader is qualified to provide initial emergency animal sheltering training to new rescue volunteers.” The largest issue is identifying when to activate the emergency animal shelter in terms of people, animals, homes or property

threatened, he said, adding it’s “a major undertaking to move, set up and get volunteers into the area.” Most EARS volunteers are from the mid-Okanogan Valley and north county areas. A second issue is how to ensure people are notified of where to take their animals when

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Evacuee Sandy Morris, Chiliwist, tends to Frannie Mae, her mule, at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds.

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evacuations are given. “This was an issue during Carlton Complex. There was no emergency animal shelter for four to five days and Red Cross centers were not set up at the time Level 3 notices were given, due to the extreme, fast-moving fire,” he said.

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2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA — Page 9

Rain gauges help predict when flooding might occur Crown Resources fine money helps pay for warning system By Brock Hires The Chronicle

remediation projects in the vicinity of the mine to settle the penalty. The first Crown Resources project included $100,000 for installation of the rain gages. “We are extremely pleased to be able to help support the people and the environment of the Okanogan County region in the wake of the devastating Carlton Complex fires and recent flooding,” Crown Resources Vice President Mark Ioli said last fall. “It’s good to see that these dollars

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Firestorm 2014: The Story of the Carlton Complex Wildfire

METHOW– Following a rainstorm that sent torrents of water across the Carlton Complex fire area on the evening of Aug. 21, the Department of Ecology’s Assessment Program installed rain so help residents be aware of and prepare for future flooding. “We do have rain gauges in Okanogan County that are tied to the National Weather Service,” state Department of Ecology spokeswoman Joye RedfieldWilder said. “I believe they’ve been useful already.” Okanogan County Emergency

Manager Maurice Goodall said the gauges did tip off county officials to the potential for flooding this spring. In all, the department’s Environmental Assessment Program installed 17 gauges with the coordination and planning of the Okanogan Conservation District, National Weather Service and the Governor’s Office. The system records rainfall data and is transmitted to local emergency officials to alert the public about the possibility of hazardous landslides conditions. In 2012, the Department of Ecology fined Crown Resources $395,000 for water quality permit violations at the Buckhorn Gold Mine near Chesaw. In June 2013, the two agreed that $80,000 would be paid immediately and $180,000 would go toward funding environmental

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Water from Chiliwist Creek flows down what was Chiliwist Road on Aug. 21, 2014. The road has since been repaired.

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Page 10 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA


2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA — Page 11

Gauges from 9 can be put to use on the ground to make a positive difference in the region.” “So far, $70,000 has been spent on implementing the gauging,” Redfield-Wilder said. “The agency allocated $100,000 for the project, but don’t expect to spend all of that. I don’t know the long-term funding scenario (or) whether the (National) Weather Service handles part of the cost.” Ecology often recommends the funding of supplemental environmental projects as part of a settlement or in lieu of a portion of a penalty issued for environmental violations, she said. The gauges are located on Blue

Okanogan Conservation District

Water rushes through a yard during flash flooding earlier this year. Inset: Orange dots denote the locations of rain gauges in the Carlton Complex burn area.

Buck Mountain, South Ridge, Thrapp Mountain, Pole Pick Mountain, McClure Mountain, Mount Leecher, near Starzman Lake, Crater Creek Trailhead, Cow Creek, near Buckhorn Mountain, Harmony Heights, Hungry Mountain, Cooper Mountain, near Goat Mountain, Chiwaukum, near Spencer Canyon and Dinkleman. Last year’s rainstorm destroyed or damaged 10 homes that survived the fire. At least two homes were pushed from their foundations while other were filled with mud. Roads such as state Highway 153 between Benson Creek and Carlton and along Beaver Creek, saw five feet of mud across the highway. Sections of other roads, including state Highway 20, were washed away.


Page 12 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA

Conservation district aims to assist Landowners get technical assistance, some seeding By Brock Hires The Chronicle OKANOGAN – While it may take years to see and fully feel all the destruction from last summer’s wildfires, the Okanogan Conservation District is doing its best to assist as many landowners as possible. “We’ve got about 250 landowners we’re working with now,” Education and Outreach Coordinator Kirsten Cook said. “It was a rather steep increase. It was sort of like we felt it was our job” to assist landowners after the fire. Cook said the district has been providing homeowners primarily with technical assistance and “providing them with information about what to do next. “We were given funding through the supplemental budget in January,” she said. Agency personnel have been doing “critical area seeding, also working with landowners to replace burnt fence and working with Washington Conservation Corps crew to bring them out and to do some fencing.” Places that were reseeded include about 375 acres in the Bill Shaw Road area of French Creek,

east of Methow; about 700 acres in the northern section of French Creek; and approximately 900 acres in the Frazer Creek area east of Twisp. “The grass seed mix used in the project was intended to speed vegetation recovery by supplementing natural re-growth,” Conservation Planner Terri Williams wrote in a report earlier this month. “The mix included a quick-germinating wheatwheatgrass hybrid intended to tie erosive slopes together quickly and not persist longer than two years, and a native grass mix designed to establish more slowly and fill in the spaces left by the wheat hybrid after it declines.” Using funding from the state supplemental budget, the district provided cost-share funding to private landowners who lost agricultural infrastructure in the fire. Aside from one-on-one assistance with homeowners and ranchers, Cook said one of the biggest projects is the $623,000 emergency watershed protection program. “That program we got started with about a week after the fire made its big run,” she said. The district went out “looking for homes at risk of flash floods. Cook said the district, along with the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service and state Conservation Commission, worked

“ It was sort of like we felt it was our job. Kirsten Cook

” with engineers to develop a system to divert water and debris flows. “The drastic and sudden change in the amount of vegetative cover, especially on heavily forested areas at the top of steep slopes, increased the risk that higher volumes of runoff would occur and impact human infrastructure downhill,” Williams’ report said. “Thirteen structures were identified as ‘indefensible;’ in other words, no constructed improvements could be installed to reduce the risk to the structure, due to site conditions and physical restrictions.” Thirty-nine structures were considered at high risk for flooding. “By the time final drawings were approved and a contractor chosen, it was late November,” Williams said. “Although the contractor attempted to begin installation, frozen ground prevented the projects from being

See District 13

Okanogan Conservation District

A protective structure is installed near a residence off state Highway 153.

509-997-3110 • 800-597-7191

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2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA — Page 13

Alert system helps warn residents County emergency manager urges more people to sign up By Dee Camp The Chronicle OKANOGAN — Okanogan County’s new emergency alert system up and running, and has been used twice to notify people of flooding potential in the Carlton Complex burn area. Alerts were sent for flooding on Texas Creek on May 28 and potential flooding after that. Additional weather notifications have gone to people who opted into the weather alert portion, which is operated by the National Weather Service. “It’s working well,” county Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall said. The new notification system was implemented in the aftermath of the Carlton fire, which saw active fire on several fronts over a 400-square-mile area from Winthrop to Pateros-Brewster and across Loup Loup Pass into the Chiliwist and Malott areas. The Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office and emergency management struggled to notify everyone in the fire’s path, and police and fire crews were spread thin. After the fire, Okanogan County contracted with a company called Everbridge for an emergency alert system. “If we have a disaster or emergency, with a population of about 43,000 people we can notify every (phone number) within an hour,” Goodall said. In all likelihood, not everyone would need to be notified at once since emergency situations — fires,

District from 12 completed within the work window originally agreed.” Because Natural Resource Conservation Service emergency watershed program funds must be spent within 10 days of the notice to proceed, the projects were in danger of non-completion. Williams said that over the winter, officials pushed to renew the funding. Work began on the projects in May. “We came back and revamped everything (and) they finished on June 30,” Cook said. In all, the project included 13

floods, ice storms, dam breakage, toxic spills, road closures and the other emergences— tend to be more isolated, he said. The system can be tailored to notify a specific area or the whole county. Those who opt in can set a priority system for notifications by text message, cellphone call, email or land line call. As a starting point, the county obtained land-line phone numbers and cell numbers from various carriers. With telephone number portability and cellphone movement, the county is relying on county residents to fill in the blanks by voluntarily registering their locations and the best ways to contact them. Despite the system’s success so far and its potential, Goodall said he’s disappointed that only 554 people had opted in as of late last week. “The number should be many, many times more than that,” he said. “Citizens need to opt in to make the system work.” Although his office has access to all land line numbers, “who sits at home all day long? We can’t notify the public if we can’t reach them, and in today’s world it’s by cellphone.” The numbers are secure in the system and won’t be shared, he said. Goodall said he’s also working on a way to notify every cellphone that “pings” off a specific tower so people traveling through the area can get notifications. The system is being tested and refined all the time. Goodall said he can activate it from his cellphone or any computer, and the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office dispatch center also can activate it. Goodall said another example

of how a targeted alert could be made came last week with a small ammonia leak in Omak. No alert was sent, but the fire department later inquired whether the system could be used for such a situation. It can. On June 28-29, when a wildfire swept into Wenatchee, Goodall went there to provide relief for Chelan County emergency workers who’d been working for hours on end. That county put out a shelterin-place advisory on its emergency alert broadcast system for an ammonia leak from one of the burning commercial buildings. He’s looking into how Okanogan County’s emergency alert system could be used to augment the Everbridge system. In addition, the emergency department recently set up Facebook and Twitter accounts, which people can follow for bulletins and updates. The department’s Web page will be redesigned soon. Statewide, seven emergency teams are being assembled to work with the state Emergency Operations Center to provide trained relief personnel. Three have been assembled so far. People who want to opt into the alert system can go to the department’s website, www.okanogandem.org, and register up to five addresses and several means of contact, including text messaging, cell and land telephone lines and email. Contact points can be prioritized. The password-protected system also allows people to specify what types of alerts they want to receive, and whether they have any medical or mobility concerns such as oxygen use, vision difficulties, mobility problems and so on. If more than one person in a

systems and involved 17 different landowners. For the time being, Cook said the district is working to find additional funding to continue Carlton Complex recovery work. “The 2015 (state) biennial budget did not include any funds for the Carlton Complex recovery” by the district, she said. “It was pretty disappointing. What we’re going to do is continue to see if there’s projects we can fund through other sources such as grants; to offset the costs of replacing agriculture, understructure, erosion.” Cook said the next few years could be particularly interesting.

“I think we’re going to see some pretty big changes in the next three to five years,” she said. “Honestly, the fire was only 12 months ago and it’s too soon to see some of the large changes (such as) hydrology.” Recalling the Barker Mountain Fire, which burned 60,000 acres in 1985 east of Tonasket, “It took several years” to see the change, she said. “We’ve been doing our best to meet goals,” she said “I know that people wish it would happen quicker and easier and less red tape; but were bound by the rules. “We’ll keep asking the Legislature for money; it is what it is.”

household has a phone number, all numbers should be registered since it’s possible not everyone will be at the same location, Goodall said. Information is used only for the notification system, he said. People should include their home address, but also may include other addresses such as their business or relatives’ addresses, he said. Out-of-town people can register, too, for alerts

about Okanogan County locations. Once activated, the system attempts to reach the first contact method on a person’s list. If there’s no response, the secondpriority method will be contacted and so on, Goodall said. “It asks you to acknowledge you’ve received it. If you don’t acknowledge it, it will notify you again and again,” he said.

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Page 14 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA

State chips in for dispatch upgrades By Dee Camp The Chronicle OKANOGAN — If all the state budget dust settles the way Sen. Linda Evans Parlette envisions, Okanogan and Ferry counties will get $2.25 million to upgrade their emergency dispatch systems. The state budget includes $1.85 million from the disaster response account “to address deficiencies within their communications infrastructure for 911 dispatch,” the legislation said. The remaining $400,000 is in the capital budget. Last summer’s Carlton Complex fire taxed Okanogan County’s system as thousands of calls flooded into the dispatch center. The system threatened to go down as the volume of calls caused equipment to overheat, the Sheriff’s Office said. Parlette, in whose district the fire burned, said when she learned communications were compromised, she set about to convince her fellow legislators the county did not have the tax base for 911 improvements its own and probably never would. As of late last week, the money was in the budget, which has been signed by Gov. Jay Inslee, but the Senate still was haggling over some details. “It will also help Ferry County,” Parlette said of the appropriation. Mike Worden, chief of operations and communications for the Sheriff’s Office, said the new equipment will allow Okanogan and Ferry counties’ dispatch centers to back each other up in case either one has to be evacuated or something happens to one. Microwave networks would be built and equipment enhanced to provide redundancy. “Radio and calls could be routed” through the other county’s

Alert from 13 Those notifications will help Goodall’s department coordinate notifications with the Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office or other agencies so they’ll know which people in a particular area may need in-person contact. “People have got to learn there are not enough bodies” to alert everyone in person in a situation such as the Carlton Complex, Sheriff Frank Rogers said. His office will continue to do in-person notifications, may not reach everyone and may not be able to make multiple contacts as

systems, he said. “Each would have a backup without actually building a backup.” The two already provide some backup to each other, but with the new equipment that function would be complete. “Funds will be used to replace failing radio dispatching hardware within 911 dispatch centers; build interoperable communications between each county’s dispatcher such that each can serve as a backup to the other, and build upon the existing wireless microwave network for 911 calls, dispatch centers and first responder radio operations,” the legislation said. County commissioners were instrumental in seeking funding for the new equipment. “They worked hard to get it,” he said. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers welcomes the money, but said the dispatch center also faces a space issue. “They are running out of room” in the present location adjacent to the jail, he said. This spring, Okanogan County’s dispatch center got new radio consoles to replace decade-old ones that were failing. “That’s the actual computer they use to talk to people,” Worden said. The new consoles, which help dispatchers keep track of where police and emergency units are, which calls are pending and what help people need, have several feature enhancements, Worden said. Last July’s huge volume of calls, coupled with electricity spikes, fried air conditioning in dispatch server rooms and threatened to shut down the system. In July 2014, the county dispatch center fielded 14,066 calls — about 6,000-7,000 more than in a normal month, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said. Of those,

4,218 were 911 calls, with 2,227 of them coming July 17-18 - the days the fire blew up. Still to be addressed are radio communications with units in the field. In about half the county’s area – including much of the area within the Carlton Complex area – there’s just one radio frequency for everyone to use. That includes all fire departments, police and sheriff’s offices and emergency medical services. He estimated as many has 150 units — from deputies and other police agencies to local and visiting fire departments and emergency medical services units — used that single frequency during the fire. During that time, all those units needed to stay in touch with dispatchers, commanders and each other but many were left working blind, not knowing where other units were or what their instructions were. They also need the ability to communicate with state and federal agencies. Expanding radio frequencies can be costly and smaller agencies may be reluctant to switch or not have the financial means to buy new equipment, he said.

evacuation levels change. “Personally, I don’t like this 1, 2, 3 evacuation level system,” he said, adding conditions may allow a deputy or other person to make only one contact. During the Carlton fire, Rogers said his office didn’t get official word from firefighters to notify some areas. One deputy had a “weird feeling” about the fire’s advance toward Pateros, so deputies headed for that area, he said. At one point, some of his officers were in the Methow Valley doing notifications but were unable to get back to the Okanogan Valley because roads

were closed. Others were in the lower Methow but unable to go northward. Despite the alert system’s promise, Goodall cautioned that it won’t be a fail-safe, end-all means of notifying people. “Some folks are totally off the grid,” he said. “They need to be prepared. Do not depend on someone else.” The system will cost the county about $20,000 per year. Mike Worden, who is in charge of the Sheriff’s Office dispatch center, and Glenda Beauregard, who works in the emergency management office, set up the system.

Sheriff satisfied with his office’s fire response OKANOGAN — A year after the Carlton Complex fire, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said he’s satisfied with his office’s effort’s to notify people in the fire’s path. And, he said, the agency remains ready to be part of the initial response team in case of another fire. “We will be there initially,” Sheriff Frank Rogers said. “If we see a situation like Pateros, we go.”

Given the fire’s rapid advance on several fronts, Rogers said his department proud of what was accomplished. On July 17, with fire burning from Winthrop to Pateros and both state Highway 153 up the Methow Valley and state Highway 20 over the Loup closed, his deputies delivered hundreds of evacuation messages. “We did everything we could humanly do,” he said.

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He’s also noticed fire agencies “are jumping all over fires” this year. Emergency Manager Maurice Goodall echoed that. Local agencies always have attacked fires aggressively, but he’s noticed extra-fast response from all agencies, including the state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Forest Service. —The Chronicle

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2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA — Page 15

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Page 16 — 2015 Firestorm: The Road to Recovery, The Chronicle, Omak, WA

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Firestorm! The Road to Recovery  

A look back at the road to recovery from the July 2014 Carlton Complex wildfire in Okanogan County.

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