Wildfire was roaring toward their 640-acre ranch near Twisp, but Judy Doran McBride and her husband stood their ground.
“If the fire comes our way, we’re going to stay and defend our home,” McBride told KUOW’s Marcie Sillman.
“My husband is a pilot for the smokejumpers – he flies the smokejumpers to their fires,” she said earlier. “They told him, ‘We’ll come help you, Cap’n.’”
And they did. A fire team arrived Wednesday night, then headed out into the night. They started a back burn early Thursday close to the house to deprive the wildfire of fuel.
“I could feel the heat, the smell, I could hear the crackling,” she said. “I was just watching it hoping that it was doing what it’s supposed to do. And it did.”
The firefighters also built a fire line, and neighbors pitched in to build a perimeter around the house. A 1,700-gallon water tank the McBrides had bought after last year's fires was used to keep the buildings and the ground around them wet.
On Sunday, while the hills around them were blackened, the McBrides’ home stood unscathed. The Okanogan Complex fires, now the state’s largest ever, burned some of the land her dad bought in 1955 – but not the family memorial plot.
McBride said her decision to stay was based on a combination of having experience with fires and knowing whom to call when the situation became dire.
“The smokejumpers are the elite,” she said. “It was remarkable to watch them gather right in my driveway, ‘this is what we’re doing,’ and then we didn’t see them the rest of the night because they were out in the middle of the night on the fire line.”
Then there’s a long relationship with the land around them.
“We know the winds of the valley, the hills and peaks and ravines and how wind travels through them. We’ve done this before.”
She said the Carlton Complex fire that roared south of her area last year and taxed firefighting resources made people wary of depending too much on outside help. But she said not everyone can defend their house.
“If you don’t know fire behavior, don’t stay,” she said. “Prepare the property as best you can, but don’t risk yourself.”
She says her vehicles are still packed and ready to go if this unpredictable fire changes direction. And she’s sleeping with her nose attuned for the smell of smoke.
‘Watching The Town Empty Out’
Meg Donohue got burned out during the Carlton Complex fire last year, and as flames neared this time, she evacuated her new home in Twisp on Wednesday to stay in one of the buildings on her old property 10 miles away. There’s no electricity, but she said it was as though the old home was embracing her.
“We were watching the town empty out,” said Donohue, owner of Blue Star Coffee Roasters in Twisp. “And the thing is, there are only 900 people who live in Twisp. We all know each other. We all know everybody who is being affected by the fire.”
But some were stuck despite the risk, she said.
“My neighbor here in Twisp couldn’t evacuate,” Donohue said. “She’s been taking care of her son for decades who has MS. She couldn’t leave – not unless flames were at their doorstep.”
On Thursday morning, Donohue was back at her coffee bar and found a minor miracle – it had electricity.
“We served free coffee. Any kind of that anyone wanted. Any number of shots. We were able to get our production done and all of our coffee out the door for the week, which felt so fabulous. We lost power on Saturday.”
She said Tom Zbyszewski, one of the firefighters killed on Wednesday, had been a customer.
“The mourning is deep. It’s really deep. His parents are so dear, and you know, also members of this community – that people care for deeply.”