Where to get help
People who lost homes during last week’s wildfires can get help from:
The Community Action Council for emergency funding to help with some immediate needs, such as gas vouchers. They can call the Council at 826-7405 or visit the office at 424 2nd Ave N, in Okanogan.
The Red Cross for an appointment with a case worker. People can call 571-205-3464 or come to any shelter. Shelters are at The Winthrop Barn, 51, N. Highway 20, Winthrop; Chelan High School, 215 W. Webster Ave., Chelan; and Brewster High School, 503 S Seventh Street, Brewster.
— Dee Riggs, World staff
Fire victims face ‘tight’ rental market
PATEROS — It was already tough to find a place to rent in Okanogan County before wildfires burned down about 150 homes last week.
CHILIWIST — The gravel road to what remains of Loren Dolge’s log cabin now divides a still-smoldering landscape dotted with charred ponderosa pine and desert scrub.
The blackened and bloated carcasses of burned cattle lay along portions of the roadside where they were overcome by last Thursday’s wind-driven race of the Carlton Complex fires.
The 65-year-old former firefighter was visiting his son in Alaska that night.
He came home to that horror scene.
“I got back in just to pull dead cows out of the way. By then, I had no hope left,” he said gazing now at the skeletons of automobiles, heavy machinery and ATVs in the shambles of his disintegrated shop building.
There’s no sign that the small, two-level log cabin he’d built from logs he’d felled on the 40-acre property was ever actually made of wood. The home’s now-exposed, concrete foundation had become a repository for burned appliances, the metal frame of a chandelier and twisted roof tin.
“If you’re a kid and you ever thought you’d like to have a log cabin in the hills, I did it,” he said of the home on a flattened plateau with a postcard view of the Okanogan County hills.
With nothing salvageable and no insurance, rebuilding will be tough.
“I have seven grandkids. I figured someone down the line would take over grandpa’s place,” he said.
Dolge is far from alone in this rugged and remote country of cattle ranches and orchards, the bountiful Columbia River and mountainsides that become tinder-dry in the summer heat.
Conservative initial totals show that at least 150 homes were lost in last week’s fire run. The Carlton Complex is still burning and has reached 250,000 acres, but the fire-weary communities around and above Pateros and Brewster now appear out of danger.
Locals say many evacuees have already moved in with loved ones in other communities as far away as Wenatchee. Many more are sticking around.
Alejandro Valdovinos Murillo and his extended family lived for 15 years at the “King Blossom” workers’ camp owned by organic produce distributor Agrimax.
The fire that raced down a hillside and around the Brewster-area camp Thursday caught Valdovinos and the camp’s other 50 inhabitants by surprise. Never given evacuation warning by authorities, they were rousted out of bed just before midnight when the flames were upon them.
“The owner sent a boy to wake us up,” he said in Spanish. It was windy and there was so much smoke. There was no time to take anything.”
He and about 20 other camp residents have temporarily relocated to another farmworker camp owned by Okanogan County agricultural giant Gebbers Farms.
Others have found apartments or other housing in Brewster, they said.
Valdovinos and others have received financial support from their employer. They’ve also found food and clothing at emergency shelters and aid centers in Brewster and Pateros.
He says he’ll stay at the Gebbers camp until Agrimax rebuilds the cabins lost at King Blossom. They all have jobs to do, and continue to report to work daily.
“It was nature,” he said of the tragedy. “You can’t take a stand against nature. Only God knows how things turn out. Life is the important thing. Everything else comes after that.”
Gail Johnson, 39, of Brewster Flats, is taking a stand.
She’s staying in a tent on the land she’s lived on all her life. The house she grew up in is now in burned ruins.
Brewster volunteer aid workers Zulma Erickson, her daughter Zienna, and Tessa Gamble caught up with Johnson Wednesday, dropping off drinks, toilet paper and apples.
“What are you going to do if it rains?” Gamble asked.
“Get wet,” Johnson replied, not joking.
Johnson’s three kids were staying with others the day of the visit.
“I’ve fought all my life to keep this place,” she said of the five-bedroom, one-bath home. “It looked crappy on the outside, with shingles, old paint. But it was really well built. It had hardwood floors. My youngest once told me, ‘you know, I really like this house.’”
They made it through the fire, but Johnson has resisted heading to an emergency shelter, because her three dogs and three cats wouldn’t be allowed.
She hurt her shoulder trying to get valuables out of the home before it went up in flames. She still reports to work at her part-time job at the Brewster Exxon station. Asked about the future, she changes the subject.
Jim Kline, whose home is beyond the asphalt of North Star Road, made it through the fire with his property intact. He lost a horse and mule in the fire.
He stayed much of the night fighting a very close call with flames until he felt his property was out of danger. He recalls the sight of a barefoot, shirtless man carrying a cat as he walked along North Star Road, flames on both sides, until firefighters came to help.
“We’re comfortable. We’re fine,” he told volunteers Erickson and Gamble when they stopped by his house with supplies. “The five or six people who stayed with their houses, saved their houses, and their lives were really threatened,” he said.
Kline credits local firefighters for coming in and helping him save his land. He says state firefighters were on the scene first, but weren’t responsive.
“Everyone who stayed was willing to sacrifice their lives for their homes, and that’s the American way,” he said. “The next job I have is sad. I’m going up on the hill to bury my horse and mule. It’s so sad. They were beautiful animals.”
Elsie Ground, one of Kline’s distant neighbors, also stayed.
She and her family used their own farm equipment to trim the dry grass along the edge of their 46 acres and then sprayed it down with water, she told Erickson and Gamble, when they stopped by with an offer of supplies.
Ground turned them down, telling them to save it for others with more need. But she accepted the offer of propane.
Her property is an oasis of green, sprinklers were going. Her horses were spared.
“If we hadn’t stayed, we’d have lost it,” she said, calling out as the volunteers were getting in their cars — “Hey! Do you want any apricots?”
Not giving up
Log-cabin builder Dolge says he’s probably got enough timber on his property to try again, but not much money.
“I’m not walking away from the land, but an immediate plan I don’t have,” he said.
The plan will come, he says, “after I get over being such a dummy for not having insurance. It can’t replace anything, but it lets you get going again.”
He added. “If I’d have been here, I could have grabbed something. Troy’s furs (his son’s hunting pelts) and maybe the photo albums and the antique stuff. I was a day late.”