Darrington, forestry industry gather together after Oso landslide

2014-04-03 Ashley Bach

The city of Darrington and the forestry industry are so intertwined that they are practically one and the same. The mascot for the Darrington Middle and High School is the Loggers. The school’s gym, which also serves as part of the Darrington Community Center, “tells you a lot about this town,” said KING 5’s Chris Daniels in a recent story. “All wood, all local lumber. Built by loggers, for loggers.”

Signs around town say, “Logger Power/Git Er Done.” The largest employer in the town of 1,300 people is the Hampton sawmill, which has 130 employees and is responsible for another 170 jobs through mill-related businesses. Even Darrington Mayor Dan Rankin owns a logging company.

So it was no surprise when the timber community banded tightly together in the wake of the March 22 landslide in nearby Oso that killed at least 30 people. For nearly two weeks, loggers have searched the slide, bringing their heavy equipment to clear the mud and debris, opening their homes to the affected families, working long hours to help their own.

Local residents were some of the first on the scene of the slide and helped rescue survivors. And they are some of the last to leave as the search effort continues.

“I lived here my whole life. I’m just doing everything and anything I can to help,” said Forrest Thompson, an 18-year-old logger who bucks trees in marathon shifts that extend far longer than a normal day in the woods.

The New York Times described the scene in the days after the slide.

Though law enforcement officials initially tried to keep loggers out of the search area, the men took time off from work, risked arrest and came anyway.

While the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Guard have brought advanced technology to the search, the loggers have come with heavy earth-moving equipment and their expertise working in the forests of rural western Washington, where rain and mud are constants.

“We know the country and the guys that are blocking the roads don’t,” said Bob DeYoung, 48, a logger from nearby Darrington, Wash. “The local community is pretty tough. Once they saw that we were going to go in anyway, they started taking volunteers.”

A sturdy man, well over six feet tall and 200 pounds, Mr. DeYoung arrived at a community vigil in Darrington on Wednesday night with grayish, silt-filled mud still covering his pants and boots. Flakes of mud were caked behind his right ear.

Boots covered in the same type of gray mud were everywhere in town Wednesday — at the vigil and at gas stations and in the grocery store — after the sun had gone down and the search was called off for the day.

Hampton Affiliates, the Portland company that owns the Darrington sawmill, had one former employee die in the slide, and a current employee lost his house. Several employees lost relatives.

Hampton CEO Steve Zika told the Everett Herald that the mill may need to temporarily shut down because one of the main roads to the mill, Highway 530, was closed off by the slide. He estimates it will cost the company $500,000 a month to pay for more fuel and truck drivers to make the 2-hour detour each way through Skagit County.

According to Zika, the long-term prognosis for the mill, though, is still good

“I think people should be optimistic that we’re going to run that operation up there,” Zika said. “Short term, we’re going to have some problems, but long term we’re optimistic with a good team and crew that the mill will be around for a long time.”   

The city of Darrington and its surrounding communities won’t ever stop working. KING 5’s Chris Daniels closed his story this week by interviewing longtime Darrington residents who were supplying local volunteers with food, water and supplies. “These ladies say once again their town, their community will be rebuilt,” Daniels said. “And it will be done with pride – logger pride.”

If you would like to donate to those affected by the landslide, the Everett Herald has a contact list of local charities that are taking donations.