It’s difficult to know just what to do right now. Things still feel overwhelming, but are slowly getting back to normal. Soon we’ll be able to sit down and talk about how we can be even more prepared for future emergencies – equipment we might need, etc. In the meantime, I felt that it was important to document what happened while it was still fresh in our minds. So, here goes part one:
Monday started out like any other summer day in Cle Elum. It was hot and windy. Jackie and Elizabeth were working in the chimp house. They were planning on using an exciting new donation – a snow cone maker – to make a special treat for the chimps during the peak of the heat in the afternoon.
J.B. and I had a day off, and I slept in. We live in the caregiver house on the sanctuary grounds, and we were planning on doing an easy hike in the afternoon. I was taking my time, making us later than planned (very typical). We finally let Jackie and Elizabeth know we were leaving the property and got into the car to drive to the trail head around 1:00. We smelled smoke, as though there was a brush fire close by, and we questioned (ok, cursed) why anyone would be burning this time of year under the dry and windy conditions.
When we reached the Taylor Bridge construction area to the west of the sanctuary grounds a couple of minutes later, we saw a flame under the half-reconstructed bridge. There were no fire crews. We pulled over and got out of the car. There was a construction crew member trying to shovel dirt on the fire and other crew members running around moving things out of the way. Another car pulled over near us and someone got out and was taking photos. The fire was quickly getting out of hand. I figured there would be a fire truck any minute and it would be all over. J.B. was clearly worried.
We turned the car around, drove a little ways back towards the sanctuary property, and pulled over again. We heard sirens approaching, and saw the fire engulf a tree, spreading flames many feet into the air. We were less than a mile from the chimp house. I was starting to get worried, but still thought things could be handled quickly with a fire truck. J.B. had entered a new state of worry and began implementing our emergency protocols. He called Elizabeth at the chimp house and told her the situation. He said she needed to bring the chimps into the building, which was designed to be fire-resistant, and close all of the doors and windows to seal out smoke, then she and Jackie should both start watering the grounds outside of the building. Then he called Sarah to let her know what was happening. She was at home in Roslyn, a town about 15 miles away.
We got back in the car and headed to the property as J.B. called our neighbors on both sides to warn them about the fire that was coming our way.
When we got home a minute later, we decided I would prepare to get our dog Honey B and two cats, Peanut and Lou Lou, out of the house and J.B. would begin to water down the cedar shake roof of the house, then we’d go to the chimp house and help Jackie and Elizabeth, who had quickly gotten the chimps secured in the building and had the hoses out. I got the two cat carriers out from the garage and put them, along with Honey B’s leash, in the bathroom of the house and then went to the chimp house, where I joined in the watering of the grounds outside of the building. I reassured Elizabeth that it was all just a precaution and everything would be fine.
The smell of the smoke was getting stronger and we could see it rise above the trees. The wind was blowing northeast about 30 miles an hour. My sense of time was already becoming distorted, but it seemed like just minutes later when we saw a fire truck and a water tanker pull into our neighbor’s property to the west, about 1,000 feet away. Then we saw the ridge above his property in flames…
Above photo: the flames on the ridge above our neighbor’s property
I am going to leave things here for now, but will continue the story soon. I don’t mean to leave it at a dramatic moment – I just want to get away from the computer and go say hello to the chimps. Luckily, you know it all ends with no one getting harmed.
Everyone in the path of the fire has their own story, some are nothing less than tragic. We encourage you to not only support the sanctuary’s road to recovery, but also reach out to help with donations to others in the area. We’ll be posting soon about how to do that.
UPDATE: Read Part 2