As you’ve probably heard by now, Washington’s scenic Methow Valley, up in the North central portion of the state, is on fire. Big time. The title of the attached U.S. News article, “Mother Nature is Winning Here,” hit the nail on the head. What started out two days ago as 4 small fires covering 18,000 acres has mushroomed almost overnight to a monstrous 240,000 acre inferno, capable of gobbling up any town that tries to stand in its way.
photo Copyright Jim Robertson
I lived in the Methow for 20 some years, in a cabin in the heart of the Lake Chelan Sawtooth range, nestled on the eastern edge of the North Cascades mountains. My wife grew up in the valley; my brother and his wife still live there.
It was there that I learned to really respect the power of wildfires. I was working on a trail crew for the U.S. Forest Service. When we were sent on “controlled” burn on the Gold Creek Ridge near the now infamous town of Carlton I saw just how quickly an out of control fire can spread.
Being a “controlled” burn, it was planned for the spring when conditions aren’t nearly as dry as they are this time of year. We were using drip torches to set off slash piles. One big pile was next to the edge of a flagged “unit,” next to an unlogged slope. The guy working on that pile got carried away, so a couple of us went over to help keep his fire from spreading. We started frantically pulling slash off the unburned slope and tossing it out of reach of the flames. But the effort was too late; one worker who stopped to take a break saw the flames reach across the flag line behind us. He yelled, “Get out of there, you guys.” We turned to see the fire move over our fire line and into the brush and trees outside the unit. Luckily we hurried out of the fire’s path. Within seconds, the flames reached the crowns of the trees and the fire shot uphill and blackened the entire slope before we could even think about trying to get ahead of it and slow its progress…
‘MOTHER NATURE IS WINNING HERE’: Wildfire destroys about 100 homes in central Washington
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS and GENE JOHNSON, Associated Press
PATEROS, Wash. (AP) — A fire racing through rural north-central Washington destroyed about 100 homes, leaving behind smoldering rubble, solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles as it blackened hundreds of square miles in the scenic Methow Valley.
Friday’s dawn revealed dramatic devastation, with the Okanagan County town of Pateros, home to 650 people, hit especially hard. Most residents evacuated in advance of the flames, and some returned Friday to see what, if anything, was left of their houses. There were no reports of injuries, officials said.
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.”
Next door, the Pateros Community Church appeared largely undamaged.
The pavement of U.S. Highway 97 stopped the advance of some of the flames, protecting parts of Pateros.
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 by the flames. The fire consumed utility poles from two major power lines, one feeding Pateros and the other feeding 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 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.
Inslee said that the state was rapidly training about 1,000 additional National Guard troops and active duty military could be called in as well.
“This, unfortunately, is not going to be a one-day or one-week event,” he said.
The Methow Valley, about 180 miles northeast of Seattle, is a popular area for hiking and fishing. Sections of several highways were closed.
“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.
In Brewster, 6 miles to the south, a hospital was evacuated as a precaution. The smoke was so thick there Friday it nearly obscured the Columbia River from adjacent highways. The smoke extended all the way to Spokane, 150 miles to the east.
Jacob McCann, a spokesman for the fire known as the Carlton Complex, said it “ran quite a bit” Thursday and officials were also able to get a better handle on its size. It blackened 260 square miles by Friday morning, up dramatically from the prior estimate of 28 square miles.
“Mother Nature is winning here,” Don Waller, chief of Okanogan County Fire District 6, told The Wenatchee World newspaper.
The county sheriff, Frank Rogers, said 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.