Three Coupeville High School alumni returned home this week after joining firefighters from all over the state in battling the flames of the Palmer Fire in Eastern Washington.
Capt. Jerry Helm said it was Central Whidbey Island Fire and Rescue’s second deployment this year.
In mid-July, the Coupeville crew also helped with the Road 11 fire in Mayfield, near Lake Chelan.
Helm said the crew had only two hours before they had to hit the road after receiving the call for help at the Palmer Fire.
The fire is northeast of Loomis, about a six-hour drive from Whidbey Island. The men battled the flames for a week.
The Wolves alumni were tasked with protecting houses and other structures from the blaze by maintaining a 300-feet perimeter.
“Access was pretty difficult. We were on steep mountain roads, not meant for that volume of traffic,” Helm said of the unique challenges of the Palmer Fire.
Helm graduated from Coupeville High School in 1998.
Fellow firefighter and class of 2013 alumnus, Kole Kellison, said the team had a lot of work from the start.
Kellison said that the fire was very close to where they were working when he arrived, and several houses were lost.
“I talked with a lot of people who had structures lost and were happy to see us there,” Kellison said.
“It was rewarding, but kind of impacting to see so many people who lost what they had overnight,” he said.
The third Coupeville grad of the crew, Dalton Martin, class of 2016, said he had never seen a fire of that size before.
“That was my very first wildland fire,” Martin said. “You learn a lot of different things.”
“You’re able to really see a different perspective of the other side,” Martin said.
Helm said that he and the other two Coupeville Wolves began their firefighting careers as volunteers. A fourth volunteer ,Central Whidbey firefighter Jeff Patton, also went with the group to the Palmer Fire.
“We’re always taking volunteers,” Helm said, and added, “If this sounds like an opportunity you’d like to get involved in, let me know.”
Multiple agencies have responded to the massive fire since Aug. 18. The fire covered 17,735 acres and was 68 percent contained as of Aug. 27, according to Okanagan County officials. A level three evacuation order is still in effect for some residents and more than 500 firefighting personnel have responded to the blaze.
The cause of the fire is still unknown.