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Neighbors help rebuild after Goldendale Monastery fire

Anna King
Northwest News Network
Klickitat County Commissioner Rex Johnston and his wife Donna, stand near the spot where a fire broke out that later became known as the Monastery Complex Fire near Goldendale, Wash.

GOLDENDALE, Wash. – This year’s Northwest fire season has been relatively calm. But that’s little solace to the small mountain town of Goldendale, Wash. Residents there are just starting to rebuild and cleanup after a wildfire obliterated about 20 structures earlier this month .

“It could have been worse. You can see how dry everything is here,” said Rex Johnston, Klickitat County commissioner.

Patches of blackened pine forest, popcorn-dry underbrush, steep hills, deep ravines and primitive roads can be seen from the roadway.

The wind factor

Johnston says the wind here is good fuel for turbine farms. Also fires.

“In the beginning the wind was blowing so that’s why it took off and spread like it did, and then the wind stopped blowing for a while there and they were able to get a handle on it,” Johnston said.

What happened in Goldendale is not unusual for a Northwest fire season. But this year’s wet, cool spring and summer helped delay the fires and kept them smaller. About a half the average number of fires, and half the acres burned too. That’s according to Jeree Mills with the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center.

“Fall’s coming so that really slows down the fire activity. Even the ones that are burning, they get a bit of the wind that comes in. But fall is here now so we’re pretty much wrapping it up,” Mills said.

Struggling in the aftermath

Of the five families who lost their homes and the dozens of others that lost property, a few said they plan to rebuild, but they’ll never be able to replace all they lost. Some of them are off-the-grid types and others didn’t have insurance.

But the mountain community has come together to raise thousands of dollars, donations of food, clothing and animal feed. And Johnston says the county is trying to wave permit fees and expedite building approvals to help everyone here rebuild quickly.

“We’re in a budget crunch just like all the counties in the United States, so we’re not going to throw money around, but we’re going to do what we can do,” Johnston said.

Johnston concedes the county wasn’t really ready for this fire. So its working to improve its emergency response to get ready for next time.

Copyright 2011 Northwest Public Radio

Anna King calls Richland, Washington home and loves unearthing great stories about people in the Northwest. She reports for the Northwest News Network from a studio at Washington State University, Tri-Cities. She covers the Mid-Columbia region, from nuclear reactors to Mexican rodeos.