Stay tuned for more updates next week!
During the past weeks our lives have been turned upside down. On July 17th, a wildfire, known as the Carlton Complex Fire, swept through McFarland Creek and destroyed almost everything. We are among the fortunate- our house survived, as did all of our animals, but we lost our barn, shop and bunkhouse, as well as all the trees and every living plant that was outside the pasture. What used to be lush hillside and creek bottom, is now a barren landscape. It is shocking to look at, but it's also amazing to watch nature start recovering almost immediately. The morning after the fire there was almost no wildlife, but later that day we saw a hummingbird at the feeder, a few quail wandering around, and a trio of deer. In just a few days we could see some little green grass shoots pushing their way through the burned patches.
This fire was unlike anything anyone has seen- even the experienced firefighters were stunned by how fast and ferocious it was. Our local newspaper reported that at it's peak it was consuming an average of 3.8 acres per second. We figured it was coming our way, and in the afternoon started making preparations. We thought it might come the next day, as we had driven up the highway earlier and seen it at Gold Creek, which is the next creek drainage north of us. That area had burned last year, so we thought it would move pretty slowly and hoped that the fire crews would be able to control it. How wrong we were…
Around 5 pm we were in the upper pasture laying out irrigation line along the perimeter where the fire would come from. We also put out hoses with sprinklers between the house and the county road, and behind the bunkhouse. While we were doing this, Bill heard a sound that he thought was a helicopter, and mentioned that they were coming with water buckets to work on the fire just over the ridge. We listened for a few seconds, and looked at each other realizing that it was not a helicopter, but the sound of the fire. Just then we saw a few flames at the top of the ridge, and within a few minutes it was moving down the hill pretty fast. We got the water running and I ran to the house to gather up a few things, as we knew then that we would be leaving. As I was headed down, the dry field above us exploded and the fire jumped to the trees on the other side of the draw. We made a last minute decision to take some time to move the sheep and dogs into the pasture nearest the creek in the hopes that it was wet enough and wouldn't burn. Bill also had the foresight to move our new tractor into the middle of that pasture away from the tree line. I put Scooter and Lucky (dog and cat) into the back of my truck along with some clothes and a few valuables, while Bill grabbed his box of family photos and treasures. While we were doing this a fire truck roared up the hill and just a few seconds later came down with sirens blasting. That was the extent of the evacuation warning.
Bill was ahead of me in his truck, and I followed in mine. As we pulled out of the driveway we saw our shop starting to burn and realized that we would probably return to find everything gone. The fire was so erratic and spreading so fast that it was already at the bottom of our road (1 mile away) by the time we got there. It was burning along the banks of the river, and also in the field on the other side, making a wall of flame between us and the highway. I saw the brake lights come on for a second on Bill's truck, then he gunned it and drove through. We made it to the big gravel parking area next to the river and sat there for about an hour watching the fire. Somewhere during all of this we had managed to contact our friends and family, and our friends from the upper valley came down to help, although by the time they arrived all we could do was watch it burn. It was so good to have them there just for moral support.
We went to town, 20 miles away, where the power was out and it was barely controlled chaos. The main grocery store had generators so they were up and running, and we were able to get some food to eat that evening and the next day. We were very fortunate to have my studio to go to- it is near Twisp and was unthreatened at that time. Not able to sleep, we drove back to McFarland Creek around midnight and attempted to get to our house, but the fire was still too intense around the road. We went back to the studio and slept until about 6 :30. The next morning was a bright sunny day, although a bit smoky. When we returned home we saw that the house at the bottom of the road was still standing- the previous evening ti had appeared to go up in flames, but the smoke was so thick we couldn't be sure. That gave us hope, and as we drove up the road we saw some houses burned to the ground and some still standing. Just before coming around the corner we saw our two neighbors, Bob and Art standing in the road talking. I was so relieved, as I knew that Bob and his wife, Fanny, had stayed at their house to fight the fire. From where we were watching on the highway during the fire, it looked as if their house had burned, so to see them alive was a beautiful sight. As we continued up the next 1/4 mile to our place, the landscape was completely barren, and I feared the worst, but it was like seeing a miracle when our little green roof appeared, then the pasture with sheep grazing and dogs barking. I just sobbed with relief. Every one of our animals made it through with almost no injuries. One guard dog, Luca was gone, but the other two remained loyal to their flock and stuck it out. They apparently had some hot embers fall on them, but nothing more than the size of a dime, and only a couple places on each. They are already almost completely healed up. We initially feared that Luca had perished in the flames, but on the 29th, we found out that he was picked up and taken to a shelter about 100 miles away. He is safely home as I write.
Now we are facing a daunting clean up task, and dealing with insurance companies. The clean up will start in ernest tomorrow (8/2) when family and friends will be here to help. Bill's brother and sister-in-law came over a couple of days after the fire to bring us some supplies and help us get our water system running and clear out some fallen trees. That was a huge help, as we needed to get water to the animals and keep things irrigated. Our water is gravity fed, so we are almost fully functional in the house as far as toilet and washing water goes. We have a generator that runs the fridge and freezer and charges our phones and computers. We're using a solar shower, which is sometimes too hot as it's 100+ degrees during the day. We have propane cooktop and a BBQ, so we can cook anything. The PUD has been working their hearts out getting power back- we are still several days away, but they are hopeful that we will be up and running later next week. All but 2 poles burned up on our road, so they have a lot to do.
Stay tuned for more updates next week!
Life on the Ranch
This Blog is intended to be a summary of the events of daily life that take place on our ranch. We hope you find it interesting - feel free to comment if you like.