OKANOGAN COUNTY, Wash. — Nearly five years after the devastating Carlton Complex wildfire of 2014, agencies and survivors gathered at the Okanogan County Fairgrounds to look back on recovery while also finding new ways to move forward.
"The goal is for them to have a comprehensive ability to learn how to be resilient to fire," says Carlene Anders, current mayor of Pateros.
She is the face behind the entire Okanogan County long-term recovery effort. She is also a former wildland firefighter and smokejumper, and the driving force behind almost five years of rebuilding after catastrophic wildfires.
Right now, as the Carlton Complex anniversary approaches in July, she is laser focused on helping those who lost everything rebuild stronger than they were before.
We have tried to strategize ways to make that real for people and how to make baby steps of changes." Anders said.
Baby steps, like replacing burned out address signs. Those are the reflective markers along the road that help first responders find you in an emergency. And for many here in Okanogan County, they were destroyed by wildfire and still haven't been replaced.
But because of Anders' efforts, "we're giving them out for free."
Firefighters from local, state and federal agencies were also at the Fairgrounds on Wednesday to remind people of how to rebuild with fire resistance in mind -- using programs like Firewise that have been in place for years, but that have new importance now.
Todd Camm, from the US Forest Service Tonasket Ranger District, says it simply: "You can't stay static. This is a fire dynamic ecosystem. Everything that is here has adapted to fire. and if you're going to live here, you have to deal with that."
Mike Worden of the Okanogan County Sheriff's Office agrees, saying devastating wildfires will return to the area again. It's just a matter of time.
"So, how do we prepare to do a better job next time? I'd hate to say that we haven't made any changes when 'next time' comes," he said.
There are two more workshops planned for the coming weeks. The first will take place on April 30 at the Community Center in Nespelem, and the second will happen on May 1 at the Methow Valley Community Center in Twisp.
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