Massive wildfire empties another Wash. town
Fire chief says 'Mother Nature is winning,' after three towns were evacuated and 100 homes destroyed
By Nicholas K. Geranios and Gene Johnson
The Associated Press
PATEROS, Wash. — A massive wildfire that has destroyed at least 100 homes has forced the residents of a second north-central Washington town to leave their homes, and prompted a partial evacuation of a third community, a sheriff said Friday night.
"We basically evacuated the whole town" of Malott, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said. Those living in outlying areas of Brewster were also told to leave.
Several hours later, Rogers said one home had burned in Malott but the fire threat in Brewster had eased.
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.
The hospital in Brewster was evacuated late Thursday. 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.
Officials said Friday the fire known as the Carlton Complex has blackened more than 260 square miles and continues to grow. That size estimate was up dramatically from the prior estimate of 28 square miles.
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.
The fire consumed utility poles from two major power lines, knocking out power to Pateros as well as the towns of Winthrop and Twisp to the north.
Gov. Jay Inslee said about 50 fires were burning in Washington, which has been wracked by hot, dry weather, and gusting winds 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.
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.
"This, unfortunately, is not going to be a one-day or one-week event," he said.
Sections of several highways were closed in the Methow Valley, a popular area for hiking and fishing about 180 miles northeast of Seattle.
"There's a lot of misplaced people, living in parking lots and stuff right now," said Rod Griffin, a fly-fishing guide who lives near Twisp. "The whole valley's in disarray."
He described long lines for gasoline, with at least one gas station out of fuel, and said cellphone towers must have been damaged as well because there was very little service.
"Mother Nature is winning here," Don Waller, chief of Okanogan County Fire District 6, told The Wenatchee World newspaper.
Sheriff Rogers said earlier his team counted 30 houses 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 of about 40,000 people.
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.
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.
Fifteen large fires were reported throughout Oregon on Friday, burning across more than 565 square miles of timber, rangeland and grass. Dozens of homes were evacuated as incident management teams and hotshot crews were brought in from at least nine states to supplement Oregon's strained resources.
Johnson reported from Seattle. Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle, Rachel La Corte in Olympia, and Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Oregon.