Ash and devastation in wake of Washington's worst wildfire
As wildfires blaze throughout California, Washington state has endured a cataclysmic wildfire season of its own. A series of fires in central and eastern Washington have made 2014 one of the most destructive wildfire seasons on record. Most notable was the Carlton Complex fire, which began as four small fires ignited by lighting in mid-July. The fires spread quickly and combined. It went on to burn 256,108 acres, according to the U.S. Forest Service. Nearly 300 homes were destroyed in the fire’s path.
Witnessing the aftermath first-hand, Seattle-based photographer Ian C. Bates drove through the affected areas in July, surveying the destruction. Communities like Pateros looked “apocalyptic,” Bates told msnbc. As firefighters and utility workers attempted to get towns back together, the fire continued to burn elsewhere, and residents had yet to return. Remnants of homes, cars and communities remained, but few people were to be seen. Many had left with enough time to spare, but some, according to Bates, had to leave very quickly and the flames grew more unpredictable. In the town of Malott, he saw a burnt out ATV sitting in the middle of the road, just its chassis and wheels left, presumably left there by an evacuee.
Bates, originally from New Jersey, had only recently moved to the West Coast, and seeing a wildfire of this magnitude, and the severity of its aftermath, was an entirely new experience. “The vastness of the landscape is incredible,” he said. “Coming from New Jersey, where I could drive from the top of the state to the bottom in four hours, I had never seen a wildfire.” While wandering through the affected areas, Bates came across two cattle, dead in a patch of dirt. Many farmers were able to evacuate their livestock, but this farmer, apparently, had to leave them behind. “I couldn’t imagine losing my entire home” Bates said, “let alone a farm, an entire livelihood.”