[Note: This is an old photo essay. I held off on posting it because I first checked to see if there was any interest in the photos. The Yakima Herald seems like a good source for updates on the Jolly Mountain Fire.]
11 September 2017
I’ve never been in the direct path of a hurricane or worried about losing my home to a wildfire. But like many people, I have friends and family who were in the crosshairs of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Closer to home, the smoky skies in Washington have provided visible and noxious reminders that neighboring communities are contending with dangerous wildfires that threaten their lives, homes, and jobs.
It’s heart-wrenching to think about what people are going through in those communities. Many of them are facing years of rebuilding, economic hardship, and uncertainty. The heroic actions of first responders and neighbors offer reasons to hope that the people suffering won’t have to go it entirely alone.
In the past few weeks we have seen powerful images of first responders rushing headlong into danger to help people, reminiscent of the bravery of firefighters and police officers on 9/11. On Monday, the 16th anniversary of 9/11, I drove to Cle Elum and Roslyn, two Washington locations threatened by the Jolly Mountain Fire. I hoped to get photos of the firefighters who risk their lives to protect people and their homes. I got those photos, but not dramatic action shots. Instead, I ended up at one of the main intersections in Roslyn and watched a grateful community rally around and cheer on weary firefighters during a shift change.
I got lucky and was in the right place at the right time. I’d walked into The Brick Saloon because it looked like it was a community hub. I wanted to ask about the fire and the location of the incident command post. Several people were carrying signs. I asked the two men next to me what was going on. It turned out I was speaking to Roslyn’s mayor, Brent Hals. He explained that Roslyn residents gathered every night before the 1900 shift change to show their support for the firefighters. He also explained that they were cautiously optimistic about the fire. [Note: That assessment was at approximately 1900 on 11 September 2017. Circumstances may have changed since then.]
I also spoke to fellow photographer and Seattleite Jake Knapp. His parents have a home nearby, and he went there to check on it after the fire started. Mr. Knapp allowed himself some optimism after initially fearing that his parents’ house was doomed. The fire had gotten to within three miles of the house, and it didn’t look like it was stopping. Let’s hope the situation continues to improve.