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Ellensburg woman surprised home survived wildfire

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By Mike Johnston
Daily Record
Published:
ELLENSBURG -- Shannon Cogan says her future is a big question mark. Her home on Bettas Road survived the Taylor Bridge Fire, and sits in the middle of what appears to be a charred wasteland.
She says she won't soon forget the last view she had of her home on Aug. 13. It was shrouded in wildfire smoke. Flames were heading for her neighbor's house.
She was hurrying in her motorhome down the driveway with the Taylor Bridge Fire headed her way.
Earlier that afternoon she could tell the fire was traveling in her direction and to her property about 15 miles driving distance northwest of Ellensburg.
"The way it was moving, I mean it was moving so fast I couldn't believe it," said Cogan after the fire. "And when I called some friends and neighbors, there was no answer at a time when they're always at home."
She decided to leave her home immediately. It was sometime past 4 p.m. but she doesn't remember the exact time.
Braking at the end of her driveway at Bettas Road, Cogan looked at her neighbor Tom Colvin's timbered home about 100 yards away to the south.
"A small cabin behind the house was going up, fast," she said. "The flames were huge and going to (Colvin's) house."
Cogan then looked farther south to the Mike Robertson home and it was totally engulfed in flames where it was perched on a hill.
"I could feel the heat from it through the windshield," Cogan remembers. "It was that hot. You couldn't see anything that looked like a house, just a ball of flame. It looked like the cloud of a nuclear bomb was making its way into our valley from the west."
Looking back to her home, smoke was enveloping it, alternating between totally obscuring it, to allowing a momentary peek here and there as the smoke swirled around it. Flames began to be visible in between her shop and small barn.
"I was sure it was gone, that it would be burned to the ground," Cogan said.
She headed north on Bettas Road, stopping later about a half mile from her home to help neighbors round up their horses into trailers.
Then she was off to property owned by her mother on Airport Road that had a shop building supplied with domestic water. There she could wait out the fire.
In her mind she steeled herself to be ready to accept her home's destruction, just has she had dealt with learning she had cancer in September 2010. Cogan, 51, is in remission from cancer, but the harsh treatment regimen has left her physically devastated.
"I was thinking 'now on top of all that I've been through my house is burned up, and I have to fight this fire,"' Cogan said.
Cogan purchased her home on Bettas Road and moved there 10 years ago from the West Side where she worked for Siemens at Microsoft overseeing technicians.
In Kittitas County she worked as a real estate agent until December 2011 when her cancer treatment began taking its toll.
In moving here, she was looking for a peaceful, country location and found it off Bettas Road in the scenic Horse Canyon area.
Cogan recalls smelling a strong smoke odor around 1:30 p.m. Aug. 13, and then called 911 to let emergency officials know there may be a wildfire.
"They (those staffing 911) told me there were a couple of brush fires in the area," she said.
She let the situation go for a while, but then got an email from a friend who wrote that two homes on Hart Road had burned in the fast-moving fire.
Soon after, another email from her friend said a local resident driving around following the fire indicated flames were headed to Bettas Road.
She called Mike Robertson, whose home is up higher on a hill to the south, and asked him about the fire. While on the line, Robertson got to a good vantage point and was alarmed at how close it was, she said.
"He said he was getting the hell out," Cogan said. "If he's taking off that means I should get out, too."
Cogan grabbed an overnight bag, put her dog and cat in her 34-foot motor home and headed out.
Cogan stayed three nights at the Airport Road site. On the evening of Aug. 13, a friend called her via cell phone and said she'd heard over the police scanner that her home on Bettas Road was destroyed.
But in the next days friends said her doublewide was still standing but her groundwater well pump house and two adjoining outbuildings were gone.
"I was so amazed; how could the house not burn up? I saw the flames coming," she said.
She wasn't confident about her home totally surviving until getting confirming information on Aug. 15 and her visiting the property Aug. 16.
"There it (the house) was, with mostly everything burned up everywhere else and in between and around the shop and barn," Cogan said. "But they were still standing."
Her snowmobiles, on a trailer in the driveway to her barn, were melted, blackened hulks.
Some homes to the north also survived, including those owned by Chuck and Sharon Holtz and Dave and Sharon Gordon.
She said the Gordon home was featured in several TV news footage clips surrounded by flames. The large, chalet-style home front was untouched.
Looking south, Cogan said neighbor Tom Colvin's house, garage/shop and small cabin were obliterated into piles of debris.
"That was hard to look at. It was just gone."
Later she learned that some neighbors along Bettas Road continued to help each other and their threatened property as the fire advanced, some with shovels and water.
She learned that Jeremy Hink, a contractor living on nearby Low Road -- a side road to Bettas -- drove his bulldozer to neighboring properties on Monday to push up earthen berms around structures in hopes of halting the flames.
"I heard he never left the area that day," Cogan said. "I believe what he did saved my house. He and my neighbors and friends are some of the real heroes in all this."
During the morning of Aug. 13, before the fire, Cogan had met with a friend and real estate agent about listing her home for sale. She had been thinking about moving somewhere that's warmer during the winter.
She realizes the resale value of her home and land has sunk from the fire damage, but there are other reasons it would be hard to leave.
Her mother lives on nearby Lookout Mountain, and she stayed there until Aug. 22, when she went back home to Bettas Road. Many friends helped her in many ways during her cancer treatment and now during and after the fire.
"How can I leave with all these friends and people who're looking out for me? They're so kind and generous. It would be so difficult to move out of here. These are my close friends."
Story tags » Forest Fire

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