The hazy, smoky air still makes my stomach curdle with fear.
I was 4 when the regional disaster known as Firestorm torched the Spokane area. On Oct. 16, 1991, heavy winds downing power lines sparked more than 90 separate fires around the Inland Northwest, burning more than 100 homes and blackening the land all around. I vividly recall Firestorm’s terrifying uncertainty, and now view it as one of the most impactful events of my childhood, growing up on 20 wooded, rural acres in Stevens County.
After the first flames ignited and sent embers flying, my parents quickly packed up our valuable belongings — antique furniture, family heirlooms, photographs and important documents — and rented a storage unit in Spokane. My mom packed clothing and we made the short drive to my grandparent’s 80-acre farm above our home on a hill. It was safer there, with more routes out if the fire moved in. One night during the fires, my dad took me outside, lifting me up on his shoulders. There, in my striped nightgown, I saw the mountain vista in front of our homes glowing with orange flames against the black night sky.
We were lucky. The firestorm burned for days all around the region, but our land and our homes remained untouched. It was the first memory I’d have of many more fires to threaten our rural community. Each one filled me with more terror than the last. Just as anxiety-causing were summer’s hot, dry spells, lightning storms and windy days that all meant high fire danger. The fires alone didn’t make fear course through my body, but the materialistic thought of losing everything in a fire’s wake.
As residents across the Inland Northwest woke up this past Friday morning to a brown sky blocking out the rays of a blood red sun, the dense ashy air left a fine, grayish-black powder on everything it touched. Street lights stayed on long past sunrise, and the world was cast in an ominous, yet eerily beautiful, goldish glow. These remnants of wildfire stirred up my long-dormant feelings of dread. I tried to imagine the emotions of residents of Central Washington — the people in Brewster and Pateros who lost everything in the still burning Carlton Complex fire. In place of a desire for empathy was something stronger — guilt. Guilt that here I was, conjuring up old childhood fears of losing my home to a raging wildfire when they just had.
When natural disasters — tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, earthquakes, tsunamis and forest fires — strike, our collective reaction is to consume breaking news reports. We become almost morbidly fascinated by the images and stories of destruction fed to us, all so accessible on our social media accounts. At the same time we ache for the losses of others due to what’s largely attributed a random event. The Carlton fire was sparked by lightning; the whims of changing winds paired with the intense summer heat propelled it toward towns with little warning.
Every region of the world comes with its own set of natural threats. Those who choose to call these places home do so with some understanding of the chance they might be affected by a mostly unpredictable disaster. But until one happens to or close to us, that probability doesn’t dominate our thoughts.
Most of us will never lose our homes to wildfires. But when we see it happen on such a tragically large scale like the Carlton Complex fire, we’re reminded of our vulnerability to the odds and also comforted by it. Homes can be rebuilt and things replaced, but the scars of any disaster will live on in the landscape and its victims memories forever. ♦
Firefighters continue to battle the Carlton Complex fire and the Watermelon Hill fire outside of Cheney. You can help victims of Washington's forest fires by donating to the Red Cross or other efforts listed here. (SR/KXLY/Wenatchee World)
A body was found on the shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene early Saturday. Police have not yet identified the victim. (CDA Press)
Conservatives on the Spokane City Council are worried the liberal majority will pick another liberal to fill departed Councilman Steve Salvatori's seat. (SR)
Some people who've bought insurance through Washington's state exchange are still having issues with the site. (Seattle Times)
Death and destruction continue in Israel and the Gaza Strip. (NYT)
A friend of Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been convicted of obstructing justice. (NPR)
Separatists in eastern Ukraine have agreed to hand over the black boxes from a Malaysian plane that was shot down and allow investigators into the area. (WaPo)
China has suspended operations at the meat supplier used by Chinese branches of McDonald's and KFC amid accusations the supplier repackaged expired meat products. (BBC)
Police accountability advocates today voiced several new concerns about the Spokane Police Department's proposed usage policy for officer-worn body cameras, taking issue with vague recording requirements and a perceived lack of public input.
The Center for Justice issued a letter dated July 16, also signed by the Peace and Justice Action League of Spokane and other local groups, saying advocates found the latest draft policy insufficient to ensure body cameras would provide reliable oversight.
"Unfortunately," the letter states, "the current version of the policy supports a purpose mostly of discretionary surveillance, not of transparency and accountability."
Advocates expressed the most concern with the rules defining what and when an officer must record. The proposed policy says "most" police encounters "shall" be recorded, but a section specifically listing many common, required interactions was removed.
"If left to officer discretion, there could be inconsistent usage," the letter states, "which will undermine both the camera's oversight value and the public's trust in our police department."
The letter also requests policies to address protocols for camera malfunctions and additional oversight for video filing. Advocates hoped the department would extend opportunities for additional comment or discussion of the issue in the near future.
The new letter comes several days after the ACLU of Washington sent a somewhat similar letter, calling the policy "disappointing" and lamenting a lack of privacy protections. Nationally, the ACLU has offered several recommendations for how law enforcement should approach the use body cameras.
SPD officials note they proactively asked the ACLU to review the proposed policies to develop a balanced set of rules that protect both police officers and citizens. The department plans to start rolling out the cameras on officers by September.
Spokeswoman Monique Cotton confirmed today the department plans to host multiple public forums to collect citizen input and answer any questions about how the technology will be used. Those forums have not yet been scheduled.
A state of emergency has been declared for 20 counties in Eastern Washington, including Spokane, as multiple wildfires burn and temps continue to hover near 100 degrees. (KREM)
Vivint, the Utah-based home security company (read our story about the company here) that recently closed its year-old call center after being lured to Spokane by economic incentives, has repaid the $150,000 in state funds it received to move here. (S-R)
SCRAPS is investigating a case of animal cruelty after a dog died of apparent heat-related distress, and another was in serious condition, after being tied up to a fence yesterday without water in the heat of the day. (KXLY)
A Spokane County Sheriff's deputy has been fired after it was discovered that he was also still posting hours at his former job at Best Buy. (S-R)
Residents of many Southwestern U.S. border towns continue to firmly protest the arrivals of thousands of immigrant children fleeing the violence in their home countries of Central America, while other towns are embracing the refugees. (CNN)
Israeli military officials fear a ground invasion of the Gaza strip is inevitable after nine days of air strikes that have left more than 200 Palestinians dead, including the recent deaths of four children. (NYT)
Director Ron Howard announced he's working on a feature-length documentary about the Beatles' touring years, scheduled to open sometime next year. (Reuters)
Where's the pic of the guy with the magnificent beard?
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