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Oso Marks Year Of Loss And Survival, Asks For Space

Bellamy Pailthorp
Assistant Fire Chief Toby Hyde was among the first responders to the Oso landslide. The Oso fire department is an all-volunteer force.

In Oso this weekend, thousands of people are expected to turn out for memorial gatherings to mark the anniversary of one of the nation’s deadliest landslides.

First responders and families of the 43 people who died are asking the public to give them space.

"Oso Strong" is a motto that’s become common in the Stillaguamish River Valley. But emotions are still running high. Assistant Fire Chief Toby Hyde says for the legions of volunteers and loggers that did the rescue and recovery work, it was like being on a military deployment. They spent two weeks sifting through the mud for human remains. 

“Pick-up sticks style," Hyde said. "It was overwhelming for everybody. And that stuff doesn’t go away. Now that the one year (anniversary) is coming back around a lot of those memories are becoming more and more prevalent and they’re filtering back up.”

Hyde says in this small community of about 800 residents, people call the fire department to report trespassers. But firefighters aren't police, so it's a tough line to walk.

"We're not the police and we want to make sure we're giving the general public an opportunity to see this event," and so when people call the fire department about trespassers, they can't really do anything. But they're asking for compassion as they try to heal.

He says the landslide area is still private property. Locals don’t want outsiders wandering around on it. They had a couple of processions along the highway when it reopened. 

But now, crowds and media crews are coming back. Town leaders are planning private ceremonies for the families this weekend.  

“And it’s hard to understand that people want to see it and be a part of it, but still have our community try to be insulated enough to remember that we are still supporting each other," Hyde said, "regardless of what (outside people) do when they drive by.”

He says the grief encompasses thousands of voluteers from Oso, Darrington, Arlington and other communities around the region. 

"Everybody was affected by this and they're still processing," Hyde said. "And they will for a long time."

Sunday's morning's memorial will include a bell ceremony, flag raising, honor guard and pipes and drums. Elected officials and community members will be present, but no formal speeches are scheduled.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to