Editor’s note: Readers submitted these stories about emergency preparations and the eruption of Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980.
Facing unknown, fire crews create plan
On that particular day I was working at Spokane Valley Fire Station No. 1 with five other firefighters. We were having a relaxing day, a mild one at that.
Early that afternoon, 2 to 3 p.m., I looked outside to the west and noticed that the sky was getting dark. I thought maybe a rainstorm was coming. I turned on the news to learn that Mount St. Helens had erupted and the ash fallout was headed our way.
Having no idea what we were faced with, we had quite a discussion of what effect it would have on the area. All of the firefighters started talking about a plan of operation, including the following:
1. How would it affect people with breathing difficulty, such as asthma and allergies?
2. How to handle the ash fallout and cleanup.
3. Would the ash get into the automotive engines and cause damage?
4. We did have some extra filter masks around the station we could use, besides our self-contained air packs.
We did have several emergency calls that evening, all minor ones, and we had to drive slowly because the ash was blowing so hard that we could hardly see the road.
The following day the fire commissioners had purchased several thousand filter masks that would be available for distribution to the residents of the Spokane Valley.
The firemen spent several days handing out masks to the masses of people who came. Everyone was thankful to receive a mask as they were in short supply at first.
The recent volcano in Iceland shows that history can repeat itself around the world 30 years later.
– Lt. Jim Anderson, retired, Spokane Valley Fire Department
Pilot reports mountain with ‘really big fire’
“What is this stuff?” “What’s happening?” neighbors were asking each other, as ash came sifting down, inundating the area. We thought we could figure out what happened because…
Early Sunday morning, my husband, an avid radio amateur, was contacting other “ham” operators, one of whom was a pilot who was flying over Mount St. Helens.
“Hey Bob, I was just flying over this mountain and there was a really big fire down inside of it!”
We were quite certain the ash in question was the result of this mountain being, in fact, a volcano.
Leta Norcross, Spokane Valley
Eruption taught her to be prepared
I was single and living on the outskirts of Cheney. My 3-year-old daughter Jenny and I were sitting in the dining room having a snack when the curtains from an open window gave a poof and we felt the wind. A few seconds later, we heard a loud boom. I knew instantly the mountain had erupted. I turned on the news and the horror stories flowed.
I immediately drove to Cheney to get bread, eggs, dog food and toilet paper. We got our milk from the neighbor and made our own butter. I had four horses, three pigs, a calf, six 3-week-old turkeys and 15 3-week-old chicks. I also had three Great Danes. I only had a two-stall barn, so I put the calf and three little pigs in one stall and the stallion in the other. I put the mares in the corral and hoped they would be all right. I put the turkeys and chickens in the second bathroom shower stall. The dogs became “house dogs.” We listened to the news and watched the skies, and slowly it became night at noon and ash fell like dirty snow covering everything.
Cheney got a lot of ash. I had just gotten a ton of hay. The news said not to drive or go outside or breathe the ash, so when I fed the animals, I wore a scarf around my face. I was a student at EWU and all classes had been canceled.
I was stir crazy after a week, and had run out of chicken food and dog food and needed a few groceries. Jenny and I drove to Cheney very slowly through the ash-covered highway. No one was outside. It was like being on the moon. It seemed as if we were the only people left on the planet. There were few groceries on the shelves.
Mount St. Helens taught me to be prepared for anything. My barn and my pantry are always full. She was a good teacher.
I still have a little jar of ash somewhere in a box. I have been to the mountain three times, and am still awe struck by what Mother Nature can do in a blink of an eye.
Nancy Hartley, Chattaroy
Low rumble disturbs country quiet
It was one of those nice spring days where I would take the Sunday paper and sit out on our deck before breakfast. Since we live in the country, it was very quiet and still. Then I heard this low rumble. I knew it wasn’t a jet and wondered who would be blasting at this time of the morning. I checked my watch; it was about 8:35 a.m. I think to this day I hear the eruption at our home in Elk.
I was and still am on the local fire department. I can remember driving into town to pick up boxes of masks for the local people to use. People would show up at our fire station, and we would hand them out by the box. Since no one seemed to know what kind of danger the ash presented, most people were cautious and used them. I also remember a local man who commented that he would be using his mask to paint his house.
Mike Ellsworth, Elk, Wash.