Looking Beyond the Backburns and Bizarre Scenes: After Response, Recovery

The Red Cross responded to the Chelan Area Wildfire, August 2015. This is a 4-part personal account of volunteer service by Carlin Comm.

Carlin Comm, based in Austin, Texas, was visiting his parents in central Washington when a fierce firestorm struck nearby in the small, resort town of Chelan. He joined his father, Garth Comm, a local Red Cross volunteer, to deploy with a recovery team to distribute supplies and provide emotional support to residents that were impacted by the devastating wildfires.


Friday  – 21 August 2015

Together, Brett, my dad and I visited an area that was even more isolated and remote, tucked away in very narrow canyons. Late last night the utility crews had restored power, so most residents we met had well water available again.

We saw such a bizarre scene: house after house, where the fire had burned right up to the edge of the property. There was a visible line maybe 50 feet in some cases, and charred black and ash beyond that. This was the work of a fire crew and truck that had reached every accessible residence for a “backburn,” which is intended to burn the fuel away from the houses. A very surreal sight emerged beyond the house. Cars, storage buildings, all burned to the ground.

The fire was very unpredictable. In a completely burned area, we found a meadow that was utterly untouched. Further up the road, we saw a pair of deer, walking up a blackened hill, between smoldering trees.

Even with all the loss and damage, the residents we met were surprisingly upbeat and positive. They appreciated us stopping by to check on them. While they were out cleaning up, they were also looking ahead, making plans to rebuild or replace what had been lost.


Part 3 coming Thursday, September 24

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