Wildfires explode in Okanogan County

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by Associated, KING 5 News and KREM.com

NWCN.com

Posted on July 18, 2014 at 6:11 AM

Updated Saturday, Jul 19 at 11:11 AM

The latest:

  • Evacuations underway in the towns of Malott and Brewster.
  • The Carlton Complex Fire, burning in the Methow Valley, has burned a combined 202,000 acres, says a governor's spokesperson. It is zero percent contained.
  • An estimated 100 homes have been destroyed.
  • About 2,000 firefighters are working in Eastern Washington; an additional 1,000 National Guard troops and active duty military could be called.

PATEROS, Wash. - A massive wildfire that has destroyed at least 100 homes forced the residents of a second north-central Washington town to leave their homes Friday, and prompted a partial evacuation of a third community in the scenic Methow Valley, a sheriff said.
    
"We basically evacuated the whole town" of Malott, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Friday night. Those living in outlying areas of Brewster were also told to leave.
    
Malott is home to about 500 people, while the population of Brewster is about 2,400.
    
No injuries have been reported, the sheriff said, adding he knew the damage toll has grown but he didn't have an updated number.

"We know we've lost more homes," he said.

Watch: Raw footage of damage in Pateros area
    
The hospital in Brewster was evacuated late Thursday.  Outlying residents were told to leave on Friday, Rogers said, because "the fire is just kind of picking up and blowing down toward Brewster."  Smoke in the town on Friday was so thick it nearly obscured the Columbia River from adjacent highways. The smoke extended all the way to Spokane, 150 miles to the east.
   
Fire swept through the town of Pateros on Thursday, leaving its 650 residents to return to large areas of smoldering rubble.

A spokesman for the Carlton Complex Fire, Jacob McCann, said Friday that the fire "ran quite a bit" on Thursday and officials were also able to get a better handle on its size. By midday Friday, the blaze was an estimated 202,000 square acres, up dramatically from the last estimate of 18,000 square acres.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Friday morning that his team counted 30 homes and trailers destroyed in Pateros, another 40 in a community just outside the town at Alta Lake and about 25 homes destroyed elsewhere in the county with a population of 40,000.

Gov. Jay Inslee, who headed to the wildfire area near Wenatchee Friday, said about 50 fires were burning in Washington, which has been wracked by hot, dry weather and lightning. Some 2,000 firefighters were working in the eastern part of the state, with about a dozen helicopters from the Department of Natural Resources and the National Guard, along with a Washington State Patrol spotter plane.

Related: National Guard's ground troops heading to fire lines

Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for the state's Military Department, said 100 National Guard troops were on standby, and up to 1,000 more in Yakima could receive additional fire training. Active duty military could be called in as well, Inslee said.

How you can help: Northwest Response

Sections of several highways were closed in the Methow Valley, a popular area for hiking and fishing about 180 miles northeast of Seattle.

Wildfires devastate town of Pateros

Friday's dawn revealed dramatic devastation in Pateros, including solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles.  Most residents evacuated in advance of the flames, and some returned Friday to see what, if anything, was left of their houses.
    
A wall of fire wiped out a block of homes on Dawson Street. David Brownlee, 75, said he drove away Thursday evening just as the fire reached the front of his home, which erupted like a box of matches.
    
"It was just a funnel of fire," Brownlee said. "All you could do was watch her go."
    
The pavement of U.S. Highway 97 stopped the advance of some of the flames, protecting parts of the town.
    
Firefighters poured water over the remnants of homes Friday morning, raising clouds of smoke, steam and dust. Two big water towers perched just above the town were singed black. Ash fell like snowflakes.
    
Firefighter Don Scahfer reported several community buildings were destroyed in the fire including the local post office, school, a church, and a hardware store.

Two major power lines, one feeding Pateros and one feeding Winthrop and Twisp, have burned, causing a widespread power outage in the county, said Scott Miller, the county's emergency manager.

Most of the Methow Valley from Carlton to Mazama was without power after utility poles burned.

Evacuations of Pateros took place late Thursday night in Okanogan County due to a wildfire that has burned dozens of homes along the Columbia River. Thirty-five homes in and near Pateros have been destroyed, according to county officials.

Thursday night, the fire jumped across Highway 97 between Brewster and Pateros, according to the Associated Press. The fire, known as the Carlton Complex fire, exploded from an estimated 28 square miles to more than 260 square miles by Friday and continues to grow.

About 100 miles to the south, the Mills Canyon-Chiwaukum Creek complex of fires earlier chased people from nearly 900 homes as it sent a dusting of ash over the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth. Most of those evacuation orders were rolled back by Friday, with residents of only about 300 homes affected, said fire spokesman Bob MacGregor.

There was no indication on when U.S. Highway 2 would reopen in the area, said fire spokeswoman Mary Bean.

Authorities said Thursday that the Chiwaukum Creek Fire has grown to more than 10 square miles. It was first detected Tuesday. The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor's offices in both Washington and Oregon to declare states of emergency, a move that allows state officials to call up the National Guard.
   
Contributing: KING 5's Michael Konopasek, Associated Press writers Nicholas K. Gernaios in Spokane and Donna Blankenship in Seattle.

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