As we started to research and conceptualize the show, we quickly realized that it was important to put this particular fire in larger historical and environmental contexts. Fire, after all, has shaped the landscape of the inland West for millenia, As dramatic as the 2012 Taylor Bridge Fire was, it would surely be even more interesting for our visitors if we could help explain why that particular wildland fire so intense and why a particular kind of command structure had directed the fight against it. We also wanted to demonstrate a point that had been repeatedly brought home to us during the TBF; that fire, for all its destructive force, is also often creative, helping to forge or re-forge the bonds of community.
As we talked with fire professionals and with scientists, we began to realize that the conventional distinction we had been making, between "structure" firefighting and "wildland" firefighting, didn't entirely make sense in our particular region, living as we do on a wildland-urban interface, Working with our friends at the Roslyn Historical Museum, we saw we had the opportunity to foreground the Roslyn story, emphasizing that the struggle against fire has been been constitutive of community. Thus, the show starts with a dramatic artifact: the classic hand-pulled firehouse wagon from the Roslyn Museum, juxtaposed with old photographs of the Roslyn volunteer fire force.
We also wanted to illuminate the deep history of fire in the lnland Northwest since the end of the last ice age. Fortunately, our colleague Megan Walsh in the Geography Department, whose office is just a hallway over from Anthropology, is a noted specialist on the paleo-ecology of fire in this region; she and her students have been gathering data on the past 10,000 years of fire in the inland West. Megan generously shared her research data and her insights, contributing to our opening section, "Ancient Regimes of Fire."
And through old and new photographs of the Sinlahekin valley, visitor are able to ponder the long term consequences of an intensive regime of fire suppression across the past century, which has, ironically, rendered our forests much more vulnerable to mass conflagrations.
I developed a small section (named by Lynn, "Lighting the Way") on fire, human evolution, the history of religion and the cultural meanings of fire. I drew in part on the thinking of Richard Wrangham, whose book “Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human,” will be the subject of our first museum-library book discussion on Dec. 5 at the Ellensburg Public Library. We hope to read each quarter a book related to an exhibition theme, rotating between the Ellesnburg Public Library, the Museum and the university's Brooks Library.
Hope and her students had a grand time working with local firefighters and community historians, gathering stories and artifacts related to fire and firefighting, including objects that illustrated the history of the Roslyn all volunteer Fire Department.
As anthropologists we are especially fascinated by the ways in which the carefully managed traditions and nearly sacred objects of the fire department help create an extended system of "fictive" kinship, binding past and present members of the force into deep bonds of family-like connection.
We both worked closely with our recent museum studies graduate Justin Poole ’13, who through his new company "Curative Sounds" has created a striking soundscape for the exhibition, a two and a half minute loops that starts with a thunderclap and fire crackling, moves into wailing sirens and then whirling sound of a helicopter. A more solemn note is stuck by a bell ringing repeatedly, moving us into a memorial section with human voice, fading back into the sounds of the raging fire before the thunder clap and lightning strike begin the cycle all over again.
Our interns (Hanna Person and Mariel Brodsky) and former students (Casey Demory '13 and Justin Poole '13) worked tirelessly on the show, overseen by museum collections manager Lynn Bethke. Sara Baer '15, undergraduate rep to the Museum Advisory Council, has been advising us on making the exhibition safer and more accessible to those with disabilities, including adding braille, audio components and touchable objects into the gallery.
A final section consists of artistic mediations on the fire, showcasing two new poems by local poets Joe Powell and Mark Halperin.
|Tom Craven DJ Hall of Fame, KCWU|
We showcase the beautiful memorial at Mt. Olivet cemetery in Roslyn, honoring the four victims through an environmental installation, incorporating charred logs and sculpted animals, that reminds visitors of a peaceful forest glade.
The exhibition continues to develop, even after our official opening. People keep on coming in with new ideas and stories, which we treasure.
We look forward in winter quarter to developing new exhibition components, including sections on Animal Rescue during the fire and on Native American firefighters. Please stop by the museum and share your memories and reflections on fire in our region and in our lives.
Please note that audio tour segments for this exhibition may be downloaded from: