About 10 miles up the Chiliwist Road is a brand new home and apiary. These belong to Gert Webster and her husband, Ron Hull, two of the many Chiliwist residents to lose their home in the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire. The fire absolutely ravaged the area. The valley is filled with stand after stand of skeleton-like burnt trees, and it’s not difficult to see how the fire was able to claim their home, too.
Their rebuild actually stands in a new location across the creek from their old house. Any thought of rebuilding in the original location was short lived as a flood took out their driveway a month after the fire. If the fire had not taken their home, then the flood would have. Huge rainstorms came in August that brought massive amounts of water and completely washed out areas along the creek. Gert and Ron decided to take out the culvert that served as the base of their old driveway and relocate their home to the other side of the creek.
The landscape around their property is fascinating. Gert points out that the hills all around their property are made of granite overlaying clay deposits. This granite decomposes over time and becomes saturated with water, making rock slides common. All around the valley, divots in the rock formations show where this has occurred. This geological trait has resulted in an area that can be unstable and susceptible to erosion.
The nature of the area is also one reason why Gert and Ron decided not to log any of their trees after the fire. Although dead, the trees still have roots in the ground that help hold the soil in place. After seeing what happens to loose soil, they’d like to keep it as stable as possible.
Although it was a devastating summer, it doesn’t take Gert long to find a silver lining in the events of 2014. She and Ron had a list of overdue projects and chores for their old home. The fire allowed them to start fresh and make some changes. Their old house ran off of solar energy, and they often had to use kerosene lamps and candles in the winter. They were able to incorporate electricity into their new home. Gert is excited that she can finally listen to music in her house!
She knows her land well, and it’s clear that she has a lot of respect for the natural processes that change it from time to time. Even though the fire has taken away a lot, she has also enjoyed all that the fire has brought to the land. Multiple species have popped up in the last few years that were sparse or non-existent in the area before. The black-backed woodpecker is one new addition. It was a bird that was endangered due to fire suppression. This is just one species on the long list of animals Gert now sees on her frequent walks of the area.
Shortly after the 2014 fire, Gert learned that the area she lives in is no stranger to wildfire. A major fire burned through this same area over 100 years ago, reminding us that, as devastating as these megafire events are, they are in fact a natural part of the earth’s cycle. Those fires most likely shaped the land in a similar way. Though it will take years, the land will also recover again.
For more information on how fire has shaped the Chiliwist Valley, email Gert at firstname.lastname@example.org.