The following is from the ARRL Newsletter.
On the morning of July 2, Skamania County (WA) ARES Emergency Coordinator Kevin Widener, KE7IN, was on his deck and noticed smoke blowing above the Columbia River. He drove a quarter of a mile to investigate and saw that flames from burning trees were already above the bluff 1,200 feet above the river. Almost immediately, the small community of Underwood, Washington, was under Level 3 “GO NOW!” evacuation orders. The threat was real, and the community’s safety became the top priority. The fire became known as the Tunnel 5 fire. By July 4, a Type 2 Incident Management Team was deployed to manage firefighting land and air resources that came from all over the Pacific Northwest.
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the Skamania County Sheriff, Summer Scheyer, called upon ARES to staff two positions to lend their support at the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Their crucial responsibilities included fielding phone calls from concerned residents and ensuring Sheriff Scheyer remained informed by closely monitoring social media and firefighting efforts. For 4 intense days, ARES members dutifully manned the EOC, providing vital assistance during a time of crisis. By the time the fire was contained, five residences were lost, several more sustained significant damage, and several other structures were destroyed. Quick response from the local volunteer fire department and firefighting aircraft prevented scores of other homes from being destroyed.
Meanwhile, another ARES member received a request on the morning of July 3 to deploy to a small community located west of Underwood. The area had suffered significant damage to telephone landlines, leaving some residents without any means of communication. To address this urgent need, a radio station was swiftly established at the local school. This improvised solution ensured emergency access to dispatch services, should the need arise. ARES operators showcased their resourcefulness, stepping up to provide citizens with a lifeline during this time when telephone landline access was unavailable. Once the landline was repaired, the radio station was deactivated, marking the successful conclusion of this deployment.
Skamania County ARES comprises a dedicated team of 11 amateur radio operators, all united by their unwavering commitment to the community’s safety. Many of these operators had previously been activated during the devastating 2017 Eagle Creek fire, which ravaged over 50,000 acres of the pristine Columbia River Gorge. Their tireless efforts did not go unnoticed, as the Sheriff and other community leaders expressed their gratitude and appreciation for our ARES team’s invaluable contributions during the Tunnel 5 fire. — Kevin Widener, KE7IN/WQWI878, Emergency Coordinator, Skamania County, Washington ARES (W6TQF)