Evans Canyon Fire Aftermath
During the summer of 2020, Washington suffered numerous wildfires throughout the state. The Evans Canyon Fire started on Aug 31st and lasted close to two weeks consuming over 75.000 acres. The fire ravaged an area that I knew well, Umtanum Creek Falls and the Oak Creek Wildlife Area. These are in the central part of the state, south of Ellensburg and northwest of Naches.
The trail to Umtanum Creek Falls I’ve hiked and photographed numerous times over the past 15 years. When our now-adult kids were small we’d hike here. The trail enters a fall, follows the creek, and then continues to a basin where the waterfalls plunge downward. Along the way are aspen trees, grasses, dry-side wildflowers as well as many birds.
In mid-October, I took a week-long photography trip in eastern and central Washington. While I was aware that this fire happened in the area, I was hoping that this special place was spared. For the first 18 miles of the gravel road I was feeling optimistic, but then I rounded a curve, and the destruction and accompanying smells were in my face. It was disheartening.
With sunset approaching, I hit the trail—the fire had charred but not destroyed the parking lot or trailhead. And I quickly discovered that the photography was remarkable.
This was one of those uncommon situations where I had to manage deeply contradictory emotions simultaneously. I felt a sense of awe at the scale of this fire, and a sadness in experiencing its consequences—I knew what this used to look like. But the stark textures of the areas the fire had passed through were striking and the colors were unusual.
Fires like this can be very erratic in movement and consequences. Some trees were totally spared; other were not. The fire had desiccated many aspen trees, preserving their leaves in a crisp amber tone. At first glance, you would have thought that this was a normal autumn scene—until you looked a few yards over to the aspens that were untouched, their leaves the bright yellow and faded greens expected in autumn.
It all made for some fascinating photography and a humbling experience.