Even as flames from the massive Carlton Complex fire came dangerously close to his home, Dale Burnison ignored warnings to evacuate.
Nestled in an isolated canyon about five miles west of Pateros, Washington, the area around his home was among the hardest hit by the massive wildfire, which has destroyed more than 150 homes and burned through nearly 379 square miles in Okanagan County.
Burnison, 75, is a retired Seattle City Light employee who moved to Pateros in 1989. He spent much of his life racing hydroplanes on Lake Washington.
When evacuations were urged in the area last week, Burnison stayed until the very last minute, watering his lawn and grabbing family photos out of his son’s cabin, which sits about 100 yards away.
As he finally fled in his pickup truck, he watched in his rearview mirror as the entire canyon was engulfed in flames.
“Did you ever think you were going to see your house again?” he was asked.
“No, I didn’t. I thought it was going to be gone,” he said.
And it should have been.
Instead, when Burnison returned two days later, he found his home and shop completely untouched by fire. Even his American flag continued to fly.
No other structure in the area was left standing, including his son’s cabin, which was reduced to a pile of rubble.
“So many of my friends don’t have homes any more. I would trade my home for theirs, if mine could burn and they could still have theirs,” he said, as he peered off his balcony at the glow of fire burning in the distance. “I feel almost embarrassed when I tell them that my home is OK, and theirs is gone. It’s a funny feeling. I don’t like it.”
As Burnison sat in his living room, looking through photos he took of the fire as it passed through, his phone rang. It was a friend from Seattle he used to race hydroplanes with, calling to check up on him.
“Yeah, I’m fine John. I’m OK here. Everything is OK,” he said.
While he struggles to understand how his home could have been spared when others were not, Burnison is grateful that his life is intact.
He was more than pleasantly surprised when he opened up the door of his shop to find his half-built, 1970’s wooden hydroplane replica completely unscathed. When he finishes the boat, he said he plans to paint the word “Pateros” on the side.