see the story of the fire part one here: https://chimpsnw.org/2012/08/the-story-of-the-fire-part-1/
As we were keeping an eye on the fire on the ridge above, a truck pulled up in the driveway. It was Brad Rorem and his two sons, who were staying in the family cabin on the ridge (Brad was quoted in this article). Brad’s parents are supporters of the sanctuary and we knew which cabin belonged to them. We stood watching the spot where the cabin sat. There was so much smoke and flames from trees igniting, all of us thought the cabin was gone (we saw the next day that it was still standing, but houses around it had burned down).
Soon, fire trucks pulled up in our driveway. Kay from the Kittitas County Fire Department was in charge and immediately assessed our situation and began to plan to defend the property. At one point, she looked at the chimp house building and said it looked good – there was a defensible space around the building that would allow the trucks to get around and do their job.
Time really became distorted at this point.
More fire trucks arrived, the smoke started to get thicker, we continued to water the grounds around the chimp house, and soon Kay told us we’d need to evacuate. I said we wanted to leave one person with the chimps in the chimp building. There was never a question that person would be J.B.
photo above: looking towards our neighbor’s property to the east, the smoke and flames are getting closer. With the sight of flames that close, it was clear we were going to be forced to test of our fire policy plan.
I put our cats and dog in the car. Elizabeth, Jackie and I looked at each other. None of us wanted to leave. We are all caregivers and leaving our seven chimpanzee friends who we’ve vowed to care for was not easy. But, it was part of our policy and it was the smart thing to do. J.B. could stay with the chimps and make sure they were doing okay and the firefighters would not have to worry about extra humans to protect.
A lot of people have asked why we didn’t evacuate the chimps, and we can explain that in more detail later, but the short answer is that, even under the best of circumstances, evacuating seven chimpanzees would have taken hours, and we had nowhere near that amount of time. (UPDATE: read a full explanation of why we didn’t evacuate the chimpanzees in the Why We Stayed blog post written by J.B., Director of Operations.)
Elizabeth, Jackie and I took radios, got in our respective cars, and drove down the driveway, turning left and pulling over in different spots on Highway 10 a few miles down the road.
I found a spot where I could still see the building pretty clearly. Our cats in the back of the car were meowing and our dog was trying to find a small space within the car to hide. I was constantly on the radio with J.B., my husband who I had just left in the path of a fire.
There were things I could see that he couldn’t and vice versa. He was keeping me, Elizabeth and Jackie updated on what was happening as best he could on the radio while also texting and talking to Sarah on the phone and talking to the chimpanzees, who were possibly as quiet as they’ve ever been in their lives.
There were moments when I was really scared, but I could see the helicopters dropping water on the sanctuary property as well as our neighbor’s property. I could see the fire trucks around the chimp house, and I could hear J.B.’s voice on the radio telling us he and the chimps were okay. I barely gave a thought to our personal possessions in the house where we had lived for three years.
photo above: flames and smoke get closer to the sanctuary property. Photo taken from Highway 10 below the sanctuary property.
photo above: one of the helicopters dropping water near the greenhouse structure of the chimp building. Firefighters in the foreground. Photo taken from Highway 10 below below the sanctuary property. The chimps and J.B. were inside the chimp house.
Part 3, from Sarah’s perspective, coming soon…
UPDATE: Read Part 3