As I write, thousands of firefighters are in Central Washington fighting multiple wildfires that are burning hundreds of thousands of acres of land. One fire alone, the Carlton Complex Fire, is the largest in the state’s history burning more than a quarter of a million acres. Spanning 391 square miles, this fire has destroyed more than 300 homes, apartments and commercial buildings. Small towns dotting the gorgeous landscape are now hosting evacuation centers, news satellite trucks and Red Cross vans. Many have lost power and telephone access while the hardest hit communities have lost town structures including a school, a post office, a church and a hardware store.
I have found myself a wildfire victim as the blaze burned across family land located in the hills above the town of Pateros. I am relieved no one was on the property when the flames engulfed the house and surrounding land but I do wish I could go back and retrieve a few sentimental items which are forever lost – photos pinned to the shop walls, the ”Paid in Full” bill from the well driller, notes written to me by neighbors. All small, insignificant items that I alone will miss.
Now, after all the marketing my company has done, the trade shows attended, ads published — all preaching about how the time to act to preserve historic documents is before a loss – I am facing that reality. It’s funny how those little slips of paper represent a strong emotional anchor – easy to take for granted – until they are gone.
With the heartache of loss comes a sobering reminder that we can never guarantee or imagine what may happen tomorrow. It may be a natural disaster or it may be something different that claims items with great meaning. Either way, protect what you can, while you can. Low-cost scanners give us an opportunity to protect many of those items which we hold dear such as photos, letters and other material that can be digitally preserved right on our desktop. Professional services are available to help with larger more complex projects. The lesson from this week’s Washington fires and my own experience is simply to take action today.Paul Jeffko is the president and founder of SmallTownPapers, Inc. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.