While Western Washington and the north Puget Sound enjoyed unprecedented warm, dry weather through September and most of October, a battle was raging only 70 miles to the east that was changing lives and affecting homes in ways reminiscent of the Mount St. Helens eruption in 1980. A series of forest fires raged for weeks in the Cascade Mountains sparked by lightning in late August and early September.
With calm, warm air prevailing over the entire Northwest, the smoke from the forest fires in the upper elevations enveloped the Cashmere Valley, affecting Leavenworth, Cashmere and Wenatchee in profound ways. Cashmere High School closed for more than a week as smoke and particulate matter exceeded health maximums, even indoors. Nursing homes moved patients, asthmatics struggled, and while 80-degree sunny weather normally makes this area of Central Washington idyllic that time of year, everyone was forced to stay indoors or leave.
Keith Collins, principal at Wenatchee’s Washington Elementary School, rejoiced in early October at their first outdoor recess in weeks. He was a student at Washington State University when Mount St. Helens’ eruption darkened Pullman’s skies.
“It was very much a flashback to that experience,” he said. “Our kids were great here. Being inside on 80-degree days was hard on them, though. When we were finally able to let them outside, they were overjoyed.”
What makes this a real estate story is that while fires raged for weeks and weeks, not a single structure was lost — a statement about the remarkable ability and courage of firefighters. Often we take for granted what they mean to us even in our own neighborhoods. Most, of course, spend time with any variety of emergency or other needs. To be a firefighter today means you probably have emergency medical technician training and other skills. When there’s a fire, though, they run in. The firefighters in New York City during the 9/11 terrorist attacks are legendary. But there are everyday men and women doing this work who never get that sort of attention.
When our three children were young, I wanted to find a way to teach them about courage. Sometimes I just needed a babysitting idea when Mom went shopping. I would often load up all three, drive to the nearest fire station and drop in. Firefighters on call at their station warmly greeted us as they were separated from their own families and appreciated having kids around. I’d find myself smiling as they’d put one boy in a truck, the other one got to wear a hat, and our baby girl stood in boots nearly her height. This became a bit of a family ritual for us when mom needed a break. Once in a while, the siren would sound and our firefighter friends would drop everything and take off, leaving us admiring them as they raced away. The next day we would read the paper and worry about our friends as our three imagined them running into burning buildings to carry out kids just like them. Courage, indeed.
When the fires raged in the Cascades in September, local firefighters and others from around the Western U.S. pitched in to help. Off in remote areas, separated from their families, putting themselves at great physical risk. They were protecting lives, of course, but they were protecting homes and livelihoods. This column has occasionally drifted intentionally away from real estate to tell an important story. Maybe I’m doing that again. But that fires so pervasive could be fought so well and no one lost a home is nothing short of hero’s work. Thanks, guys.
Tom Hoban is CEO of The Coast Group of companies in Everett. Contact him at 425-339-3638, firstname.lastname@example.org or [URL]www.coastsvn.com;http://www.coastsvn.com[URL].[/URL]