WENATCHEE — The smoke still drifted above Sheriff Brian Burnett’s head as he talked about evacuating Chelan County homes.
Thankfully, this cloud was from a backstage fog machine at Saturday’s Fresh Air Fest, a community event mounted to wave goodbye to the Fires of 2012. Burnett was onstage at the Performing Arts Center of Wenatchee, reminiscing about evacuations that were now a thing of the past.
After lightning-sparked fires erupted throughout North Central Washington on Sept. 8, neighborhoods that bordered the wildlands were put on alert or emptied by sheriff’s advisories. The evacuees who took refuge in valley towns found themselves under a blanket of thick, choking smoke, trapped by a thermal inversion that didn’t break for weeks.
“One of the interesting aspects for us was we’ve had wildfires before, but we haven’t had the smoke,” said Marriah Thornock, executive director of the Apple Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross. “… Every community had to deal with it.”
Thus, “Fresh Air.” Thornock’s Red Cross chapter was the chief beneficiary of the nonprofit Fresh Air event, which took donations at the door and saw volunteer performances from local groups Mugsy’s Groove and Patrick Foster and the Locomotive, plus visiting bands Cody Beebe and the Crooks and the Good Luck Number.
Turnout was light, with perhaps 70 people in the audience at the Performing Arts Center of Wenatchee as Beebe’s band took the stage. But the event, conceived to thank firefighters and celebrate the passing of the crisis, was put together almost spur-of-the-moment by organizers Darren Reynolds and Sally Freed, and announced Oct. 4.
“This is kind of a nice way to relax after the whole affair,” said Thornock.
She said the Red Cross hasn’t fully tabulated its cost from the fire response, during which it stafed shelter, collected donations, fed firefighters and coordinated volunteers from as far away as Oregon. The expense was probably high.
“It doesn’t mean that come this spring, if somebody has a house fire, we can say, ‘So sorry,’ ” Thornock said. “No matter what, we always have to be there.”
Another annual fundraiser for the chapter, the Hometown Heroes gala, is scheduled for March 28.
Jefferson Robbins: 664-7123