Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great And would suffice.
- Robert Frost, “Fire and Ice”
It’s been a year since shards of ice joined sheets of fire as a symbol of disaster in the Inland Northwest.
What started as a slow drizzle on an otherwise unremarkable November day quickly built into one of the region’s defining moments as heavy mounds of ice tore down thousands of trees and power lines.
Before Nov. 19, 1996, ended, the ferocious ice storm that swept across parts of Eastern Washington and North Idaho had plunged nearly 100,000 people into cold, grim darkness. In the hardest-hit places, it lasted for weeks.
A region scorched by huge wildfires five years before found itself faced with the antithesis of flames.
In the weeks that followed, three people died due to the storm, thousands of residents shivered inside their houses and prized trees crashed to the ground and through roofs.
Memories of cold sandwiches and “Viking showers,” as Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty called those frigid morning splashes, still linger.
“People I know are laying-in industrial generators, and we’re buying a wood stove,” Newman Lake resident Jeff Clark said last week. “And we’re buying two more snowmobiles. That’s how we got around up here last year.”
Clark and his neighbors were without power for nearly two weeks as ponderosa pines blanketing the slopes around Newman Lake snapped in half, ripping down electric lines and blocking roads.
Clark estimated he lost 100,000 board-feet of timber from his 160 acres. “After the ice storm, we’ll never log it again, at least in my lifetime,” he said.
A salesman at Spokane Power Tool and Hardware said ice storm survivors are asking about generators as cold temperatures creep into the forecast.
“People are nervous, and they’re preparing,” he said. “Some people are preparing themselves because they think it’s going to happen again.”
That’s a normal reaction to a traumatic event, said Bill Martin, a registered nurse and therapist who coordinates disaster counseling services for Spokane Mental Health.
“It’s the animal, primitive part of us who needs to survive,” Martin said. “I grew up around people who had been through the Depression. They used to horde their money. You’ve got to be prepared.”
But some people, even those who were hard hit in the ice storm, yawn when asked about it today.
Lori Crowther also lives at Newman Lake and was without power for 17 days, trapped in a house with three sons who quickly grew bored in the frigid darkness.
“They argued some and fought more than usual,” she said of her boys, ages 11, 14 and 15.
Crowther said her family discarded bad memories of the storm like the ice-shattered branches her husband and three sons spent four months cleaning up.
They still have the generator they purchased during some of the dreariest days of the storm, but the Crowthers haven’t stocked up on candles, batteries or canned food.
“I think the weather is so nice today, I totally forgot about it,” she said. “Besides, we’ll never see a winter like that again. That’s what I figure, and that’s what I’m counting on.”
Also a normal reaction, according to Martin.
“I’m one of those yawners, too,” he said. “I heard of a study of elderly people who claimed to be happy, and most of them said one of the reasons was they never let losses get to them. Losses happen, it’s bad, now let’s move on.”
Predictions of a mild winter caused by the weather phenomenon El Nino also have blunted fears about a repeat of the ice storm, according to purveyors of winter gear who were swamped last year at this time.
But disaster officials in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene warn against a complacent attitude.
Spokane County officials have spent the past year rewriting a comprehensive emergency management plan and forming volunteer teams that could scour neighborhoods in the case of a large disaster.
“Ice storm was good for us in a lot of ways,” said David Byrnes, deputy director of the county’s emergency management services.
Sandy Von Behren, operations supervisor for Kootenai County’s disaster service department, agreed.
“I’d never say never,” Von Behren said. “It happened to a whole lot of people out there last year.”
Von Behren suggested residents pack a box with items such as a flashlight, radio, batteries, food and water for 72 hours, a first-aid kit and other items like prescription medicines. Diapers are a good addition for families with babies, she said.
“I’d rather be prepared than not,” Von Behren said.
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