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By Guy Gifford
Methow Valley News 

Surviving the Cold Springs Fire: a homeowner's personal story


Last updated 12/9/2020 at 2:30pm

Kirsten Cook

The Cook home, before the Cold Springs Fire.

It was Sunday night, Sept. 6, at about 10 p.m. Kirsten Cook, her husband and two of their friends were stargazing when one of the friends saw and pointed out some "cool puffy clouds."

When Cook looked over at what her friend was talking about, she quickly realized what they were seeing.

"Those aren't clouds," she said. "That's a smoke column."

The group was witnessing the start of what would eventually be called the Cold Springs Fire. Little did they know, this fire would soon put to the test the Firewise work Cook and her husband had done to protect their home.

Considering the windy conditions and the proximity of the fire, they quickly made the decision to evacuate.

Their adrenaline was pumping, but they did their best to stay calm and rely on the preparations they had made for such an event. Moving quickly, they went first for their emergency kits, which contained water and food, among other supplies. Their camping gear was already in the car. Then they grabbed their emergency checklist and carefully worked through each item.

"The list gave me focus in a tense situation and helped us get everything we needed to evacuate quickly," Cook said, recalling the intensity of the moment.

They were on their way out of the house when they were notified on their cell phone by the Okanogan County alert system that their area had just been put on a level 2 evacuation notice. They got in their cars and drove to the Okanogan County Fairgrounds to set up camp and wait out the fire.

The next day, they watched the fire burn over Jackass Butte, which they knew wasn't far from their house. Their hearts sank as they realized the fire must have burned through their property to get there. Still not knowing if their home had survived, they decided to drive to Seattle and stay with friends while they waited out the fire and avoided the smoke.

Preparing for disaster

It wasn't until the following Tuesday that they heard from a friend who was still in the area. Their home had survived with minimal damage. However, all of the outbuildings and their contents had been lost.

So, what did Cook and her husband do ahead of time to be prepared for this disaster?

Early in Cook's career, she worked as a wildland firefighter. This gave her some critical insight into the destruction wildfire can wreak and also laid the groundwork for her to eventually become the community outreach director for the Okanogan Conservation District. In this position, she regularly works with the Firewise USA program, Washington Fire Adapted Communities, as well as one-on-one with the public to encourage residents to implement practices that protect homes from wildfire.

In 2007, Cook and her husband bought a piece of property in Okanogan County with the goal of someday building their dream home on it. It took a few years, but they broke ground on the homesite in 2013 and finished construction a year later.

Kirsten Cook

The post-fire landscape around the Cook homesite.

As an ecologist, she knew the ground this house sat on was a fire-adapted ecosystem. Prior to European settlement, this area likely would have burned once per decade. Records show the most recent burn on the site was in 1986, 34 years ago. With the knowledge that fire was a natural and frequently occurring event for her home site, she knew she had to take steps to minimize the potential impacts of a wildfire on their home.

"It wasn't a question of if a wildfire will burn my property, but when will it burn my property," Cook said.

Cook followed a key Firewise principal: She focused her efforts on the Home Ignition Zone. This principle breaks up the area around a home into three zones, with each zone requiring unique fire-prevention work.

To read more from this article, visit: https://methowvalleynews.com/2020/11/11/surviving-the-cold-springs-fire-a-homeowners-personal-story/


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