Our Personal Connection to Washington’s Historic Wildfires

CarltonComplexFireThe historic wildfires raging in central Washington have strong ties to the SmallTownPapers family. Not only does the company founder, Paul Jeffko, have a home and property which have been affected by the Carlton Complex wildfire but it was in this beautiful area of Washington state – an area people love for its rolling hills, canyons and orchards – that the idea for SmallTownPapers was born.

In the 1990s, Paul did some work for the Quad City Herald (Brewster, WA) which serves the Washington communities of Brewster, Bridgeport, Mansfield and Pateros. It was working in the newspaper’s Brewster office that he first caught a glimpse of the newspaper’s bound volume archives dating back to the early 1900s and realized that they needed to be made accessible to the community and also protected from the inevitable deterioration that comes with bound volumes being stored in a business attic.

Publishers Ike and Doris Vallance loved the idea of making the history-rich archives accessible for everyone and became the first to sign on to the idea in 1999. In 2000, SmallTownPapers was up and running – digitizing its first newspaper archive and making it online accessible and searchable.

This past week, the very towns served by the Quad City Herald have been under siege from the raging fires. Pateros has been in the national news for losing so many homes and structures; the Carlton Complex fire is now the largest in state history. Thankfully, the archives of the Quad City Herald are preserved and current issues of so many of the local newspapers in the area are created digitally these days so their content is protected for the future.

But we can’t help but wonder about some of the other towns affected. Are their bound volume archives sitting on a shelf in an evacuated building with the fire line nearby? Will they be safe or will the documented history of their community be lost? It’s simply a reminder to act today to preserve photos, documents and other materials that you can digitally protect for the future. We can never predict what tomorrow might hold.

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