Okanogan Healing None
This week marks three years since the devastating Carlton Complex raged through Pateros and surrounding communities in Okanogan County. It was the first of back-to-back fire seasons that decimated many of the same areas of forest and timberland for two years in a row.
Now, the green is starting to return and the forest floor is starting to recover. But everywhere you look, there is evidence of what happened in Okanogan, burned out metal, blackened trees that have not changed since years ago when the fire came through.
John Boyd, who owns property in Okanogan County, knows that to be true. His land was overrun by a fast-moving wildfire two years ago.
“I got the call about 11:30 at night,” he recalled. “Get out now.”
Since that night, Boyd said some things have never been the same but he is moving forward.
Teenage volunteers from a church in New Jersey are in town to work on his place.
“Now that I have help, it’s great,” he said. “I can finally get some things down.”
Like many fire victims, John was under-insured, he said, a mistake he realized too late.
“We pulled into the driveway and everything was gone,” he recalled. “We were just…there’s nothing.”
Boyd said he and his wife thought about leaving but decided to stay home and rebuild.
“We’re excited,” he said. “We hopefully will be able to get our house started next month or so. And it wouldn't be possible without their help.”
The volunteers, from a Presbyterian Church, will stay for a week to help, organized by the LongTerm Recovery Group.
BACK TO BACK FIRES
Carlene Anders spearheaded the rebuilding effort almost immediately after the monstrous Carlton Complex fire raged through Pateros in 2014.
But by the following summer, work had barely gotten started when many of the same friends and neighbors were once again terrorized by the even bigger Okanogan Complex fire.
In fewer than 14 months, nearly 500 homes were lost and almost 1 million acres burned. Okanogan County saw the brunt of that damage.
Two and three years later, the rebuilding continues, even if it is a bit slower.
“Financially it’s difficult,” explained Anders. “There is disaster fatigue, and people get tired of contributing to stuff that takes time.”
The volunteers from LongTerm Recovery will also help refresh the “welcome to Pateros” sign on the edge of town, a symbol of their progress.
“This new sign is going to symbolize exactly what Pateros is going to be from here on out,” Libby Harrison, the former mayor said. She too, lost her home in the Carlton Complex and is waiting to rebuild.
“I can’t believe it’s only been three years,” she said. “But to me, it feels like a lifetime ago.”
But in those three years, she's also witnessed a transformation – Okanogan County, one of the poorest in the state, picking itself up from the ashes.
“It's gotten better and better and better every single day,” she said.