Locally, a blaze last Saturday afternoon sent District No. 6 firefighters to a small fire in dry grass and timber just outside Kettle Falls. Cause of the blaze is unknown. Photo courtesy of Brian Henderson. See more photos in the July 23rd edition of the Statesman-Examiner.
The Northwest is the curÂrent epicenter for much of the nationâ€™s summer firefighting efforts. Northwest fire officials were tracking more than 17 large fires in Oregon and Washington as of last SaturÂday.
Wildfires have torched close to 950,000 acres in WashingÂton and Oregon.
Fourteen large fires are burning in Oregon, where more than 555,000 acres are ablaze. Washington has seven large fires with acreage involved approaching 400,000 as of this writing.
More than 6,100 firefighters and support personnel have deployed in Oregon, with more on the way. In Washington, as of Sunday, that number was 2,800.
While temperatures moderÂated some in northeast Washington, a Red Flag warning was isÂsued late last week for fire-ravaged Central Washington and the Columbia Basin. The National Weather Service foreÂcast breezy winds and low humidity on Friday through the Cascade Gaps and CoÂlumbia Basin.
A Red Flag warning means that critical fire weather conÂditions are either currently occurring or will shortly. A combination of strong winds and low relative humidity, combined with warm temÂperatures, has contributed to extreme fire dangerâ€”particuÂlarly in the hard-hit Methow Valley and the Okanogan reÂgion of Pateros and Brewster.
The region was expected to get some rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Dry, breezy conÂditions could follow on ThursÂday, according to forecasts. Whether that welcome preÂcipitation comes with thunÂderstorms and the attendant lightning wasnâ€™t certain at press time.
â€śThe fuels are very dry,â€ť said Robin DeMario, a spokeswoman for the NorthÂwest Interagency Coordination Center. â€śIf there is an ignition source, there is a high potenÂtial for a new fire to grow rapidly.â€ť
Itâ€™s late July. That scenario doesnâ€™t look to change any time soon.
A large, wind-whipped conÂflagration in rural, north-cenÂtral Washington destroyed more than 100 homes, forced evacuation of Pateros and cut power to most of the scenic Methow Valley last Thursday.
For many residents of the Methow Valley, last weekâ€™s firestorm was a living hell.
A spokesman for the Carlton Complex Fire, Jacob McCann, said late last week that the fire â€śran quite a bitâ€ť on Thursday and officials were also able to get a better deÂtermination of its size. That estimate grew rapidly as the fire raged out of control.
The devastating wildfires displaced hundreds of people and had burned about 150 homes By Sunday. The Carlton conflagration was running through rugged terÂrain near the communities of Carlton and Twisp.
By Sunday, the fire had torched almost 300,000 acres, or about 470 square miles.
The Carlton Complex forced the evacuation of the small town (650 residents) of PaÂteros. More than 30 homes were reportedly deÂstroyed in Pateros and anÂother 40 in the nearby community of Alta Lake. Many homes around the nine-hole Alta Lakes Golf Course were razed by the fast-moving, wind-whipped fire.
That count of homes lost is expected to climb.
Over the highway
At one point, the fast-movÂing inferno jumped Highway 97 between Brewster and PaÂteros and was burning along the Columbia River. Portions of several highways in the area were closed.
The Okanogan County Sheriffâ€™s Department said that at least 300 residents of the Chiliwist Valley, about 15 miles north of Pateros, evacuÂated their homes on Thursday night as the fire raged unÂabated.
Residents told harrowing stories of fire racing through neighborhoods and razing everything in its path.
At a community meeting with emergency and fire offiÂcials on Sunday night at Brewster High School, nerves became frazzled and tempers flared when several residents shouted that fire crews hadnâ€™t done enough to protect their homes. Others said authoriÂties hadnâ€™t notified them to evacuate and they had barely made it out before the fire hit.
Officials expressed regret and sympathy for those in attendance who had lost their homes. Fire bosses and other officials blamed communicaÂtion issues on the lack of reÂsources.
Two major power lines, one feeding Pateros and one servÂing Twisp, burned, resulting in a widespread power outage in the county. Most of the Methow Valley from Carlton to Mazama was without power after utility poles burned. The area is still mostly without power.
Last Thursday, fire from the Carlton Complex spread in every direction, fueled by winds that gusted up to 30 miles per hour. Fire bosses said the fire was spotting up to a half-mile away.
Nathan Rabe, incident commander of the Type 2 team in charge of the fire suppression effort, said safety was the highest priority.
â€śI was here at Libby South and Thirtymile,â€ť he told a few hundred people who came for a fire information meeting last Thursday, referring to the devastating 2001 fire that killed four firefighters north of Winthrop.
â€śI have 18, 19 and 20-year-olds here,â€ť Rabe told his audiÂence. â€śTheir parents have entrusted me with their kids.â€ť
A Type 1 NIMO Team, a naÂtional group referred to â€śas the experts of the expertsâ€ť and with the clout and horsepower to move in additional reÂsources, moved in late last week.
About 100 miles to the south, fire managers said crews were getting a better handle on the Chiwaukum Creek fire that chased nearly 900 people from their homes near the Bavarian theme town of Leavenworth.
As of Friday morning, that fire was officially still unconÂtained, fire bosses said, addÂing that crews had managed to box the massive blaze in west of Highway 2.
Later in the weekend, there was talk of partial containÂment.
The fire had covered more than 10 square miles by FriÂday and hot, dry conditions continued to hamper the fire-fighting effort. Like Northeast Washington, temperatures in Central Washington reached the triple digits for much of last week before a slight coolÂing trend hit last weekend.
A fire near the town of EnÂtiat Mills Canyon) had burned 35 square miles of grass, brush and timber as of last Thursday, acÂcording to fire officials. Until the Leavenworth and OkaÂnogan County fires ignited mid-week last week, that wide-reaching blaze had been the nationâ€™s largest and the top priority.
A lightning strike back on July 14 caused a wildfire to burn at least 2,000 acres about 15 miles northwest of Soap Lake in Grant County. The fire had been 100 percent contained by Thursday.
Locally, crews were mopping up a 1,000-acre fire near Lake Spokane. A 17-acre fire last week in Spokane County was also quickly extinguished.
The Department of Natural Resources in Colville has committed resources to the fire complexes in Central Washington.
According to Forrest OwnÂbey of the Northeast District of DNR, â€śeverything we had had to deal with so far we have been able to catchâ€¦fuels are very dry out there.â€ť
Ownbey said two engines from Colville were dispatched to the Mill Creek Canyon fire near Entiat. There are also local firefighters on the fire lines near Leavenworth.
The hot, dry conditions donâ€™t bode well for the rest of the summerâ€”and the typiÂcally active fire months of August and September.
According to officials with the National Interagency CoÂordination Center (Boise, Idaho), many of the large fires and fire complexes burning in the Northwest are already disÂplaying â€śextreme fire behavÂior,â€ť with groups of trees torching in bunches, fire exÂtending into the crowns of trees and spot fires igniting well ahead of the firesâ€™ adÂvancing fronts.
Oregon on fire
Above average potential for wildfires, driven by drought conditions, will extend through September for most of Washington, Oregon, CaliÂfornia, Nevada and Idaho, acÂcording to the coordination center.
In Oregon, two different lightning-caused fires grew very quickly in hot, dry condiÂtions in tinder-dry Central Oregon.
Authorities said the Bridge 99 Fire in the Cascade Range 20 miles north of the tourist town of Sisters, tripled in size and threatened rural homes along the fabled Metolius River. An evacuation order urged residents to leave their homes immediately.
In the Ochoco Mountains east of Prineville, the Bailey Butte Fire grew after getting into heavy timber in a wilderÂness area.
In southern Oregon, a Klamath County fire turned out to be more destructive than initially believed. After the fire burned in the rural Moccasin Hill subdivision near Sprague River earlier last week, officials reported six homes had been destroyed. But a tour of the burn area ratcheted that number up to 17 residences and 16 outÂbuildings destroyed.
Worsening wildfire activity prompted the governorâ€™s ofÂfices in both Washington and Oregon to declare a state of emergency, a move that enÂabled state officials to call up the National Guard. In Washington, that declaration covers 20 Eastern Washington counties.
The DNR said late last weekend that firefighters from New Mexico, Utah and WyoÂming are heading to WashÂington to help battle the fires.
Two military tankers from Wyoming are also being actiÂvated to help fight wildfires in the Northwest.
The Central Washington fires continued to pump smoke into much of Eastern Washington late last week. Saturday was a particularly smoke-filled day in the Colville valley.
An air quality alert was isÂsued late last week by the DeÂpartment of Ecology in SpoÂkane for much of the region, including Central Washington and the Tri-Counties. In the Colville valley late last week, visibility from the Central Washington fires had been seÂriously impacted, along with the air quality.
A fast-moving wildfire burning through rangeland southwest of Cheney called the Watermelon Hill Fire near Fishtrap Lake in Lincoln County, had burned about 13,000 acres by late Sunday.