This was originally posted to: Guemes Island Environmental Trust

Cleaning Up After the Arctic Juggernaut

On December 28, Guemes Island was blasted by hurricane-force north winds that may have been the most severe experienced here this century. Compared to memorable storms of the recent past, including the infamous Columbus Day storm of 1964, this one was by far the most damaging to our island. Unfortunately, no wind speed indicators survived on Guemes, which received the brunt of the storm. However, to the south, on Fidalgo Island, anemometers measured winds of 100 miles per hour. In addition to high winds, water-logged soil from record November rains and a blast from the south one week earlier, followed by a thaw, conspired to render the island forest helpless in bracing against the agitated air mass.

Even before the early morning winds had abated, shell-shocked Guemes residents began cutting their way out from under piles of toppled trees, branches and dangling wires. My own initial reaction to the altered island landscape was one of utter incredulity, soon followed by dismay at all that was lost. Whole sections of the forest looked as if they had been logged overnight. One of the island's largest old-growth trees, a five foot diameter, 150-foot-tall fir, lay broken against a Square Bay hillside along with hundreds of large second-growth trees.

Across from my obliterated driveway on Guemes Island Road, it was impossible to discern even the entrance to Gene LeRoy's driveway. He estimates that he had to cut through 100 trees to clear it. Damage to the north end of the island was frequently compared by residents to the aftermath of the Mount St. Helens eruption.

Numerous island buildings were hit by falling trees, including the Sweigert residence, which was nearly sliced in half by a fir tree and another islander's studio which was totalled by five large firs. On Homestead Lane four island visitors looked dazed following a harrowing night spent in Marilyn Jones' log cabin. Three 100-foot cedars and a fir had come crashing down on the roof, breaking skylights and piercing its interior. One lucky survivor, John Bush, described it as "one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. Miraculously, no injuries were reported resulting from the storm.

As with almost any windstorm on Guemes, the power lines took a beating. But this time damage was on a monumental scale. Not only were lines down on nearly every road, but Puget Power reports that 17 utility poles were wiped out as well. And as if all this wasn't enough, lack of power, coupled with wind-chill temperatures well below zero, led to frozen water pipes in scores of homes.

One family that was spared the inconvenience of the loss of "civilization" was the Woofendens, who reported their alternative energy system was working just fine. Those of us less fortunate were very grateful for the hard-working Puget Power crews, telephone crews, our own chainsaw brigade and the plumbers, who all worked overtime to bring human life back to a semblance of normalcy.

What will take much longer to heal are the scars left by the storm in our forests. Many land owners have contacted loggers to clear the fallen, precariously leaning and damaged trees. Others hope to mill their own trees for their personal use. Jeff May of the Department of Natural Resources reminds people that even the logging of windfalls requires a DNR permit. Applications are available by calling the DNR Northwest Region office at 856-0083. Mr. May has kindly offered to meet with Guemes Island residents to discuss aspects of the storm damage, including logging, dealing with slash and a cost sharing program available to those who wish to replant. This meeting will take place at the Community Hall on Sunday, February 10, at 3 PM. Everyone is welcome.

In the meantime, I encourage land owners to consider the detrimental effects of burning slash on the environment. The DNR suggests lopping and scattering of slash as one alternative. Another is to chip the slash, a service that Win Anderson, who recently purchased a commercial cliipper, would be happy to provide, He can be reached at 293-2565. A third strategy is to make small separate piles of branches in the hollows of the forest. This supplies housing for our smaller creatures and mitigates the danger of fire spreading horizontally. I've also had good success protecting young trees from deer by piling branches four feet wide and three feet high around their base. If you do decide to burn slash, please follow the fire regulations and be careful. However we cope with its aftermath, the Arctic Express of 1990 promises to leave its mark on the island psyche long after the physical wounds have healed - one of those before and after punctuations in time, passed on to succeeding generations with inevitable but, in this case, unnecessary embellishment.

- Ferdi Businger, Winter 1991

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