Howling winds push massive Washington state fire
WINTHROP, Washington — Howling winds pushed a massive wildfire in north-central Washington state in new directions Saturday.
Officials said there are no reports of injuries and only one more home was destroyed overnight by the lightning-caused wildfire.
The wildfire that has blackened more than 260 square miles (673 square kilometers) in the scenic Methow Valley northeast of Seattle has calmed down near Pateros, where it destroyed about 100 homes Thursday and Friday, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said.
“It’s just starting to run out of places to burn,” he said.
The fire has picked up on its north side closer to Winthrop, but winds have been erratic and were blowing the very active fire in different directions.
“The wind is just howling up there,” Rogers said.
The active fire was burning in an area that is more sparsely populated, with homes scattered throughout the woods and along the highway.
In Peteros, home to 650 people, the fire left behind solitary brick chimneys and burned-out automobiles.
Residents strolled through the smoldering rubble of their neighborhoods on Friday evening, some wearing surgical masks to protect their lungs from the smoke and ash lingering in the air of the riverside community they call “Paterodise.”
“Paterodise is hurting right now,” said Stephanie Brown, as she surveyed what was left of a friend’s home.
Most residents evacuated in advance of the flames, and some returned Friday to see what, if anything, was left.
Residents of the small town of Malott, north of Pateros, were told to leave their homes Friday as the fire advanced, as were some living in outlying areas of nearby Brewster.
Malott is home to about 500 people, while the population of Brewster is about 2,400. Rogers said one home had burned in Malott on Friday evening.
In Pateros, 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. The mayor, Libby Harrison, lost her own home, and said she expected most people to rebuild.
“As a community you come together and make a big thing better,” she said.
The fire consumed utility poles from two major power lines, knocking out power to Pateros and the towns of Winthrop and Twisp to the north.
Gov. Jay Inslee said about 50 fires were burning in Washington state, which has been wracked by hot, dry weather, 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.
Sections of several highways were closed in the Methow Valley, a popular area for hiking and fishing about 180 miles (290 kilometers) northeast of Seattle.
In Brewster, 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 (240 kilometers) to the east.
Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor’s offices in both Washington state and Oregon to declare states of emergency, a move that allows officials to call up the National Guard.
Fifteen large fires were reported throughout Oregon on Friday, burning across more than 565 square miles (1,460 square kilometers) 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.