Washington News

SEATTLE -- As firefighters continue to work to bring the massive Carlton Complex fire fully under control, state officials are now responding to claims that some crews didn't do enough to save homes in the first few days of the blaze.

KING 5 News first reported last Wednesday on the accusations from two former firefighters and current fire victims in the Loup Loup Valley.

When the fire started, it was chaos on the ground as firefighting crews looked for footholds and residents scrambled to save what they could. The state called the first two days the of that fire explosive. It was a time of confusion and desperation for people in the small valley near Twisp. Former firefighters Kim Maltias and Robbie Risley say they were busy dousing flames with garden hoses while firefighters a field away did nothing to help.

"They sat over there in the field and watched and took pictures," Maltias said.

The Department of Natural Resources tells KING 5 they are still trying to figure out if the area was under DNR control when Maltias and his neighbors lost their homes. DNR says certain areas were under local and federal control. But, regardless, DNR is comfortable saying their firefighters and managers did their very best in attacking the biggest wildfire in state history.

"The incident management team was there and starting to get in place with a lot of resources and then the fire blew up," Albert Kassel with DNR explained. "It went well beyond the scope of their box they had already drawn."

Kassel says homes in the valley were under an advanced evacuation notice from the county sheriff. Whether people in the area actually got that warning is unclear-- so is the question about who was in charge.

"This is still under investigation for us as an agency, which can take some time," said Kassel.

Risley, a former U.S. Forest Service firefighter, says he can't understand why crews weren't ready. He claims officials had more warning from residents reporting flames in the valley.

"It's beyond my comprehension why they did nothing at all," said Risley.

DNR says they are already working on a detailed after-action review which they hope will provide some answers. Whatever lessons may be learned from the Carlton Complex fight, there's one thing state officials know for certain-- you can never fully manage Mother Nature.

"It was something we have not seen in the state," said Kassel. "The incident management team that was there did what they needed to do for protecting lives, protecting the people."

The Department of Natural Resources would not say how long a review of the Carlton Complex fire would take. People living in the small valley near Twisp say they plan to file formal complaints.