When I look at the maps of the fires that are still burning as we go to print, vivid images of pre-fire places come to mind: small, tight-knit mountain communities; out-of-the-way trailheads and campgrounds; vast expanses of pine, sage and grassland; and green, high-country forests like those that spread for miles along the Kettle Crest. The 2015 wildfire season will go down in the books as an epic one for sure. Lives have been tragically lost, homes and property destroyed and hundreds of thousands of acres have burned so far. For those of us who had to alter outdoor adventure plans because of the smoke and flames or deal with a few smoky days in the city, we are the lucky ones.

Our house in Spokane caught on fire once, a few days before Christmas, so I kind of know what it’s like to fear that your life’s possessions, your pets, your entire home could be lost forever. My first move, after calling 911 and trying unsuccessfully to put out the growing inferno in our breaker box with baking soda (oops, no fire extinguisher), was to start chucking my skis and other outdoor gear out the back door into the snowy yard. (I guess I figured the cats could fend for themselves.) But it has to be a heck of a lot scarier to have your home, property and entire community surrounded and threatened by fire, smoke and circumstances beyond your control. Wildfire is a part of nature, and although its behavior and effects have been altered and amplified by human activities, forests, grasslands and wildlife will come back eventually. It’s the lost lives, homes and livelihoods in rural communities that can leave lasting scars. If you have the resources to help out, make a donation to one of the affected communities or a disaster relief charity.

September is OTM’s fall travel issue, and as you consider where the road may take you as summer winds down, don’t write off those places that have suffered the most from the season’s fires. Towns that to some degree rely on tourism and outdoor recreation that spent part of the summer flanked by wildfire and socked in with smoke – like Winthrop, Twisp, Republic, Colville, Kettle Falls, the Priest Lake area and other places – will, once the fires are out and it’s safe – welcome visitors back. There will still be plenty of unburned places to hike, camp, bike, fish and sightsee nearby and empty barstools and tables waiting for you at the breweries, pubs, and restaurants in town. And if you meet someone who helped fight the fires or came to the aid of fire victims in need, by all means, buy them a beer. //