Historic Washington Wildfires Put Homeowners, Wireless Networks to Ultimate Test

During the worst wildfire in Washington State's history –  with 300 homes destroyed, 400 square miles burned, temperatures above 100 degrees and lightning storms in the forecast – silver linings are hard to find.

North Central Washington's scenic Methow River Valley is part of the state’s famous apple-producing region and though most orchards were spared, the new reality is charred hillsides, blackened trees and ashen soil. For some, the power is still out, Internet is intermittent and phone service is spotty to non-existent.

Into this forbidding environment rolls Verizon’s all-new West Area Wireless Emergency Command Center (WECC). A banner reads “We’re Here to Help.” The large red trailer is equipped with a dozen connected laptops, a printer and chargers for all manner of wireless devices, plus WiFi. It’s an oasis of air-conditioned telecom reliability in a desert of broken equipment, burned utility poles and melted transmission lines. The WECC is positioned next to a Red Cross table in the town of Twisp, adjacent to the local Community Center, where hundreds have visited since the large red trailer arrived last week.

Don Nelson is editor of the local newspaper and was among the first to lay eyes on the WECC, posting an article about its laptops, phones, printer and device chargers free for public use.  Nelson was also an early switcher, writing in his latest column, “My smartphone was as dumb as a rock while one of the biggest news stories in the history of this region and my 40-year journalism career blew up in front of me.” Nelson says he and a colleague switched to Verizon to post news coverage on Facebook and to communicate. “That’s not a paid promotion; I’m just pointing out that Verizon worked while other service providers didn’t.”

Verizon worked because the Pacific Northwest network team performed around the clock to restore service to six cell sites hit by power outages as the fires overwhelmed electric utilities and closed highways. Verizon is also providing firefighters in Washington and neighboring Oregon with three temporary mobile cell sites.