By Edie Everette / Herald Forum
My partner and I woke up Saturday, Sept 10 in Index and thought we were on Mars. The world was red: air, streets and sky. The eeriest cloud ever hung low over town yet I jumped in the car to head to work in Monroe, convinced the smoke was from Eastern Washington. That’s where the fires always are, and besides, these things only happen to other people; right?
Once in Monroe we found out the truth, that there is a wildfire — named for Bolt Creek — just east of Index from Beckler River Road near Skykomish all the way to the Heybrook Lookout Road, the fire’s west perimeter. All that day I’m pretty much glued to Facebook, my stomach clenched with worry. Winds were blowing the fire westward, fueled by the driest brush ever. Our 150-person, Swiss Alps style town might soon become a great bowl of fire.
We left work early to return to Index and grab some things. We had not packed anything that morning due to, you know, denial. My niece, who lives across the alley from us, did throw a few things together in case we were not able to get back in time: medications; a framed photo of my mom and dad taken just after their Justice of the Peace wedding in New Jersey, before my father shipped out to fight in World War II; one hard drive with a lifetime of artwork, writing, documents and photos contained within.
We did get home Saturday evening, passing groups of first responders and their various vehicles scattered along Index Avenue. We made dinner, then my partner watched some television while I packed a few more items: my bag of watercolor brushes, paints and pads (they’re expensive); a folder of documents; my dog’s favorite toys, plus a drawing of a mosquito by a Northwest artist that hangs on my office wall.
At 8:30 p.m. we received notices on our cell phones that Index was under a level 3 evacuation, a message which basically means, get out NOW! Just then the town’s fire station siren began to wail, which only added to my anxiety. It was dark and smoky as we loaded the car. I looked back into the house before locking the door, a house I was lucky enough to own due to the fact that my father worked hard all of his life to provide. As we backed out of the driveway, officials walked door-to-door making sure people were leaving while the earth vibrated from firetrucks positioning themselves next to hydrants, prepared to water structures down.
A funeral-like procession of residents’ cars slowly crossed the Wes Smith Bridge that spans the North Fork of the Skykomish River on their way out of town.
(Potential disaster aside, this fire was a chance to fantasize. My house burning down would be a clean break from the past. I would never have to decide what to do with my mother’s coffee table, scratched from when I tilted it as a kid to use as a slide. And those boxes of decades old papers, letters and documents in the closet? Presto, turned to ash. A fire may be the only way to rid myself of ratty underwear and towels. A disappeared house and its belongings could be an opportunity to run away and become a waitress, my pink uniform replete with white piping around pockets and collar.)
This past week, homemade signs have popped up along U.S. 2 thanking firefighters. Since people usually don’t have sign-making materials at hand, some of the signs are a challenge to read. One on brown, corrugated paper is a barely legible, “Thank you, firefighters!” written with a thin marker. A multi-colored, spray-painted sign on a wooden board resembles an abstract painting, while another creator wrote their sentiment on what appears to be a worn curtain.
I love these signs. Since the highway remains closed due until Monday because of continued dangerous conditions, such as burnt and falling trees, the only folks driving up this way are firefighters (from all over!) and locals. These signs are by and about us; they are the heartwarming proof that it is the thought that counts.
Edie Everette is a writer, news junkie and lives in Index.
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