Wildfires in Winthrop are becoming ‘horrendous annual tradition’

Jul 24, 2021, 6:56 AM
winthrop, fire...
The Cub Creek Fire near Winthrop, Washington, in July 2021. (Photo courtesy of CamanoFire/Twitter)
(Photo courtesy of CamanoFire/Twitter)

Winthrop, Wash., has been sandwiched between two huge wildfires this week, and on Thursday morning had the poorest air quality in the United States.

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For perspective on just how big these wildfires are, imagine you are in downtown Seattle and the entire city of Bellevue and Mercer Island are now in flames. That is how big the Cub Creek Fire is and how close to Winthrop. And there’s a second fire, the Cedar Creek Fire, also burning to the west of Winthrop.

KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show spoke with a friend and former colleague, Val Stouffer, who lives in Winthrop. She moved there for the natural beauty, but has faced wildfire seasons almost every summer.

“It’s a lovely place. And we have been coming out here for a long time, since the mid-90s, and moved out here as permanent residents five years ago,” Stouffer said. “Four out of our five summers here, we have been significantly impacted by wildfires in some way, shape, or form. So sadly, this has kind of turned into a horrendous annual tradition for us out here, and really throughout Eastern Washington.”

While it’s tough to deal with, Stouffer doesn’t plan on moving back anytime soon.

‘The sad truth of this is it seems like wherever you go anymore, there’s always like reported the 100-year flood, the 100-year fire, the 100-year hurricane, the 100-year tsunami, and it seems like these are just happening every year,” she said. “So, Gee, if you can suggest a place to go where it’s going to be great and smooth sailing all the time, please share because I’m sure a lot of us would like to know.”

Thankfully, Stouffers says the local community in Winthrop is very strong.

“This community out here is so strong and so wonderful that we’re going to get through this. It’s not pleasant. It’s not fun. It almost feels like I’m living in a war zone because it’s minute to minute,” she said. “We’re in, right at the moment where we’re situated, just a mile outside of Winthrop, we are in a zone that’s between the two evacuation zones for the two fires. So for some reason, we’re fortunate enough to not be in any immediate danger, as we talk right now at 10:20.”

“After quite a snowy winter, we had a very dry, very windy spring, the snowpack melted early, and then we had the extreme heat in June, which normally it doesn’t heat up until about this time of year and into August, but we had like 113, 109 degree days in late June,” Stouffer explained. “So this area was really primed for something to happen. And then on July 8, we had the lightning strike that started the Cedar Creek Fire, and the Cub Creek Fire started last Friday.”

The air quality has also been a big issue for Winthrop, and Stouffers says it’s been “absolutely horrendous.”

“As I’m talking to you right now, we’re just below 200, which feels like a breath of fresh air because we were at 725 yesterday morning, so I had to wear an N-95 mask to walk my dog,” she said.

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As far as how the community is coming together, Stouffer says everyone is helping out.

“As soon as a level three evacuation notice goes out for a particular area, and a number of them have, including the neighborhood where we moved in 2016. We had a rental house in a neighborhood that went on level three last night. And people are instantly volunteering their spaces,” she said.

“Another impact of this is people with livestock and animals and evacuating them, there are some wonderful people in a great organization that’s working really hard to make sure that there’s enough hay for these animals, to help trailer them out of the danger area,” she added. “And there’s just overall the deepest gratitude we can express for the fire crews that are out there doing an amazing job. They’re putting their lives on the line every day to keep us safe. So there is profound sadness for all this loss, the loss of the beauty. But there’s also this really strong spirit out here that unites us, and I think it’s going to help keep us going through this.”

The last thing Stouffer added was for people to hold off on visits to Winthrop for now.

“Please don’t come out here right now,” she said. “… The roads are closed out here, basically, the air is horrible, as we discussed, all the trails are closed out here, the land is basically closed. So we will welcome you and everybody else with open arms once we get this under control. But this is not a good time to come out, unless you have an absolute emergency you need to be here.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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Wildfires in Winthrop are becoming ‘horrendous annual tradition’