White Swan Fire: Yakama Nation Review

By Ronnie Washines
Toppenish, Washington

The Yakama Nation, still reeling from the devastating fire Feb. 12, which destroyed twenty homes in the community of White Swan, Wash., is moving forward with cleaning up and rebuilding.

The 14-member Yakama Tribal Council met in a special session right after the fire Feb. 13, to get a review on the devastation, declare a Yakama Nation State of Emergency and to set recovery in motion.

“My heart is heavy because of the tremendous and permanent losses our people have suffered,” he said on Valentine’s Day. “My heart is also resolved to act, without rest, until our people are made whole again – and our community is rebuilt.”

The fire that ranged over some 400-plus acres, swept through the brush and trees by winds between 40 to 70 miles an hour.

Firefighters said that they were helpless because the water they were trying to douse the flames with just simply blew away.

The fire’s source was pinpointed down and fire officials said it started with a house chimney fire that spread to logs owned by a private company. Tribal officials are still investigating.

“We will work towards holding those responsible for the fire accountable for the damage they caused,” he said.

white_swan_fire_ashue.jpgSmiskin said that an incident management team was being formed to deal with such things as housing, material donations and monetary donations.

"We have met to ensure that the wheels of recovery, which were immediately set in motion, continue moving,” he said during February.

The tribe’s plans covers a wide range – from immediate needs, short-term needs to long-term action – that will complete the recovery process.

Electrical power was restored to the estimated 1,000 people the fire outage caused.

The local Indian Health Service clinic in Toppenish opened their doors to allow patients to get refills they lost in the fire. They also provided personnel to cope through their losses.

 Kids look at bike,
car and house debris
after White Swan fire.
The Methodist Church in White Swan took food, clothing and toiletries for the affected families.

The tribe has set up a Bank of American account – Confederated Tribes and Bands, Yakama Nation White Swan Fire Relief Fund – for those wishing to help.

Smiskin assured those affected their elected officials would do everything within their power to rebuild.

“Understand that through this time of grief, pain and loss, your tribal leadership is grieving with you,” he said. “But also understand that we will act, on your behalf, as a government should. And we will act through our grief the Yakama way.”

Photos by Darla Leslie