Carlton Complex Fire First Hand

by Lola Mae Worth

Smiling Volunteers worked hard to help the neighborhood recover.
As fast as trees could be felled, the limbs were gathered up. 
The Carlton Complex fire near Brewster
The devastation was everywhere.
Volunteers got dirty fast.

BREWSTER, Wash., September 19, 2014  -  The lives of many were changed by lightning strikes from July 14 through July 17 in the Carlton Complex firestorm that swept down the valleys, up to 70 mph, into Pateros and areas taking out 320 homes plus barns and many outbuildings.

We already had a housing shortage in Okanogan County and now many are in tents. As Community Center Leader for Brewster, I saw the fire above Pateros and said to my neighbors, “With this high wind, it will jump the Methow River,” not knowing that it already had farther north. The neighbors were fleeing to Chelan by 9:30 p.m.

While I was waiting in the Walmart parking lot with neighbors, my daughter, Cindy Cook, called and said “The fire is on all sides of us and we are trapped.” An hour later she called back and said, “We are alive and our house is standing.” The flames were 60 feet high over her house like a tornado.

Friday, I drove back home past 17 burned houses on my road to see my house standing but there was a large pine tree on fire. No water. No phone. No cell phone service. My brother, Ed Burns, drove up, took one look up the hill and grabbed his chainsaw and ran up the hill with my son Mark on his heels. They felled the tree and limbs were soon in a pile burning as they cleared the area and saved the house.

Sunday morning, Cindy and I headed into Brewster to open the Community Center and were met with piles of black bags to sort. Lots of bags! We opened the Fellowship Hall in the church and with many volunteers from Wenatchee and Cashmere as well as Brewster, we started to fill tables with clothes. We were open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for a week and going home each night to no power, no water, and no phone. We had our homes but we were in shock and seeing our neighbors suffer their losses was heart-wrenching.

I then heard there was a chainsaw team in Oregon Conference and one starting in Upper Columbia Conference. My brother had taken 12 trees of my place and 30 off the neighbor’s property next door; but there were over 300 black trees, plus brush, around the golf course and many neighbors needed help.

The young owner of the Alta Lake Golf Course, Parker Barth, had lost his home, clubhouse, cart building with all the golf carts and he had been trying to restore our water supply since daylight on Friday into part of the night for two weeks. He had hardly any time to comfort his two little boys or his wife and now the neighbors were saying they might not rebuild. The business had come to a screeching halt! 50 homes had been destroyed in this one small area and someone needed a jump start!

As a church, with Pastor Ryan Kilgore, we felt it was time that maybe we could make a difference. So on August 30 Doug Venn with his wife Maria and Sam Pellecer from Oregon with their teams started arriving. On August 31, with the help of many local churches 36 people came to clear blackened trees. Ed Burns had dropped a section of trees ahead to give them a good place to start while the faller, Calvin Stevenson, from Hayden, Idaho started falling in a different area.

The yellow shirts of the Disaster Relief workers were soon blackened. Neighbors put on gloves or brought food to help. The mood changed quickly as each tree fell. On September 1, the crew was made up of fewer people and Parker came with his back hoe and another neighbor ran a dump truck and suddenly things changed even quicker. Word got out and cars came by to see what was happening. As the workers’ white teeth shown in the big smiles with black faces and blackened yellow shirts, there were many saying thank you or giving a thumbs up for a good job. What a difference we can make in two days with a positive attitude. Are you prepared for a disaster in your area? I hope you are!