The Upper Methow Valley has been threatened by wildfire and blanketed in hazardous smoke for weeks. Our hearts are with the residents — including our staff — whose lives have been greatly impacted this summer. We asked our librarians Ree in Winthrop and Dawn in Twisp to share their thoughts on living and working near the frontline of wildfires that may continue to burn until snow arrives this fall.
Dawn, Twisp Branch Librarian
The air quality in the Methow Valley has been pretty bad for the past few weeks. People are happy to come inside the library where it is cool and the air is clean. Many folks, myself included, do not have AC at home so cooling in the summer means opening windows at night and using fans to blow the cooler air inside. There have only been a few nights recently where I felt like I could keep the windows open all night, often it is too smoky to do that. We use the website Purpleair.com to monitor the air quality.
Over the weekend a nearby community went to Level 3 evacuation status for a while (get out) and that was really scary. Luckily, a combination of firefighting efforts, and a change in relative humidity and winds helped keep the fire from moving into the Twisp River Valley.
Photo: Dawn’s view out the window of her library.
Ree, Winthrop Branch Librarian
Dawn wasn’t exaggerating: Relative to before the fires started, Winthrop is a ghost town. Summer tourism has pretty well dried up, and some businesses have opted to shut their doors for the duration. Last week the library was very quiet, because so many people had been evacuated or chosen to leave the Methow Valley to escape the smoke. Every day I receive phone calls from people who need to renew their materials or suspend their holds, because what they thought was going to be an absence of a few days is stretching into weeks.
Another notable change in the library is the nearly-complete absence of children. Parents are concerned about the health effects of the smoke. Some have sent their kids out of town with relatives or one parent, while the other parent remains here, working. Even when the kids still are in the Methow Valley, many parents are electing to leave the children at home and bring library materials back to them. (The temporary reprieve we got from the smoke on August 4 confirmed my assumption … That day blue skies and children returned to the library).
We tend to expect summer to be a carefree
time, but between the heat, the smoke, and the uncertainty caused by the fires, this summer has seemed like a bit of a punishment to many folks in my community. They live here because they love getting out to recreate in nature, and they’ve been stuck inside for what feels like ages. Common (and very understandable) are expressions of feelings of sadness, isolation, and depression. Some mention a sense of unreality when they leave the valley, because people elsewhere seem completely unaware of the strain they’ve been living under. And there’s a sense of dejected resignation that we probably won’t be done with these fires and the smoke until snow flies. I myself got quite sad when our other libraries got to begin doing outdoor programs: February 2020 was the last time I got to do the part of my job that brings me the most joy. With all the smoke, outdoor storytime isn’t going to be possible anytime in the foreseeable future.
I’m so glad that the Twisp and Winthrop libraries are here as places for people to cool down and breathe cleaner air. I wish there was more I could do. And I am very thankful and proud to be part of a community that readily pulls together and treats one another with so much kindness in times of difficulty.
Photos: The current library and the new library under construction shrouded in smoke.