Colville Reservation Fires 2020
What’s left of Stuart Sellars home in Malott Washington, photo submitted by Sonny Sellars.

Colville families facing loss as Washington’s devastating fires affect Colville Tribes

Sonny Sellars, a Colville man tells us what it's been like on the ground and how it's impacted his family

“I have never been so stressed in my life,” reads an email from Sonny Sellars, a Secwepemc and Colville member currently living on the Colville Reservation East of Omak, Washington. 

The Cold Springs Fire ignited without forgiveness the evening of Sunday, Sept. 6, fueled by low humidity and high winds the fire grew quickly to 187,689 acres (75955 hectares). With 290 fire personnel now battling the fire the fire is now 25 per cent contained, with much more work to be done.

The fire has largely impacted the Colville Reservation with the Northwest area of the Reservation being most affected by the fires.

The fires have claimed many homes and tragically the life of one person. 

Making difficult decisions 

When Sellars woke up on Monday morning, he logged into Facebook and says he couldn’t believe what had happened when he slept.

“The fire was deceptive.” he says.“The smoke went due south, giving the false impression it was already passed, but the fire would come down the hill into the valley from where it started.” 

With the fire continuing, Sellars went to check on his family and make sure his 18-year-old son was safe. As the sun went down, Sellars says power went out on the reserve and it was a hectic situation. 

“Sirens were going off like crazy and fire trucks, ambulances, and police vehicles were running up and down the highway behind the house,” he says. 

After falling asleep late in the evening Sellars recalls being awoken at four in the morning by his sister who came to his home because she was evacuated. He asked her to stay with him but he soon too was to be evacuated.

“She said we would be under evac real soon too. That caught me off guard…I told my son we needed to get our stuff together and leave,” Sellars says. 

“I tried my neighbor’s door to tell him, but no answer. I told my other neighbor and he said he heard on the scanner. I told him not to waste time and get going.”

Colville Reservation Fires 2020
Sonny Sellars, Colville member shares what it’s been like from the ground during the tragic fire season. Photo Submitted by Sonny Sellars.

After packing up his car, his son’s car, and his truck Sellars and his son left to go to the Visitor Centre where he and his sister decided to meet. He gave her his blankets to keep them warm and began to wait until a safe hour to return home. 

The family tried to find food but Sellars says that restaurants were beginning to close and with no power or cellular service cash was the only option.

Once Sellar and his son returned home the evening drew on and they went to bed.

“Again, I thought it was safe to go to sleep,” he says. 

“Not long after I went to sleep, my brother woke me up and said he lost his home in Malott, he and three neighbors.”

Several parts of the Colville Reservation which borders Malott, Washington caught ablaze late on Tuesday evening, the amount of homes lost in the area is unknown. 

Colville Reservation Fires 2020
Red boundary line shows here is the impact area of the Cold Springs Fire, you can also see the boundary for the Colville Reservation. Photo from Google Maps.

“I got up and felt horrible because we were safe, but now my brother had nothing.”

Immediately after hearing the news Sellars opened his home up to his brother, sister in-law, and their two grandchildren. Sellars began to prepare his home for his family when reality began to set in. 

“They packed, but only one bag for the night, fully expecting to get home the next day,” shares Sellars. “It was hard because I don’t think we knew where to start to get his life back on track.”

Colville Reservation Fires 2020
Stuart Sellars, watching as the fires moved through the area. Photo Submitted by Sonny Sellars.

How to help

After news began to spread of his brother’s home, offers of support started to come in from generous donors and family members, says Sellars. 

In the meantime, Sellars brother is staying at a cabin in a nearby town that has opened its doors to evacuees and folks from both the Okanagan Nation and Colville Tribes have offered support in the way of clothing and small furnishings. 

The family has setup a GoFundMe to support Sellars in rebuilding.

The Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation has also set up a page for general donations.

The Okanagan Nation Alliance (ONA) is currently working with the Colville Tribes to get non-perishable donations across the border to their southern relatives in need. In the future ONA will also be supporting the nation members to rebuild their homes with necessities when things have settled according to Jennifer Lewis, Manager of Wellness for ONA. 

Lewis suggests folks keep an eye on the ONA Facebook page for updates, drop-off times, locations and as well as the list of needs from the Colville Confederated Tribes. 

Currently, ONA will be setting up donation drop-off spots throughout the nation and will be also accepting documented monetary donations as well. 

Lewis at ONA shares her thoughts on how important it has been for the Okanagan Nation to support relatives in the south as the border dissects the nation. 

“The border was never there historically and we do have a lot of family down there, all of our communities are interrelated and our people we struggle.”

“They were really hit hard with COVID-19 and now with these fires, it’s really about doing what we can to support our relatives. It’s remembering that we are all one, and we are all related.”