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Growing wildfire empties Washington town

Published: Friday, July 18, 2014 9:33 a.m. CDT
Caption
(AP Photo/The Spokesman-Review, Dan Pelle)
A blanket of gray smoke from the Carlton Complex of fires near Twisp, Wash., settles Thursday afternoon, July 17, 2014, on Sunset Hill in Spokane, Wash.

SPOKANE, Wash. — A small north-central Washington town and a nearby hospital have been evacuated ahead of a wind-whipped wildfire that has already burned at least 35 homes, authorities said.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said late Thursday he hasn't heard of any injuries from the Carlton Complex of wildfires.

The sheriff issued his highest evacuation notice Thursday for Pateros, a town of about 650 people along the Columbia River. Residents drove south to Chelan. A hospital in nearby Brewster was evacuated as a precaution, with the patients sent to Omak.

"The whole town was evacuated," Rogers said in a telephone interview. "It was a chaotic mess but we got everybody on the highway."

"There's nobody in Pateros" except a few "stragglers" who stayed, he said, adding the fire was burning in the town, although the small business district was believed intact.

Rogers said perhaps 15-20 homes have burned in Pateros and another 20 homes in the Twisp-Winthrop area. He had no estimate of how many homes have burned in the entire county of about 40,000 people.

Rogers said the fire had jumped U.S. Highway 97 between Brewster and Pateros and was burning along the Columbia. Sections of several highways were closed in the county.

Early Friday, the Okanogan County Sheriff's dispatch office said the roughly 300 residents of the Chiliwist Valley, about 15 miles north of Pateros, evacuated late Thursday night.

Two major power lines, one feeding Pateros and one feeding Winthrop and Twisp, have burned, causing a widespread power outage in the county, said Scott Miller, the county's emergency manager.

The Carlton Complex of fires has burned across at least 28 square miles of the scenic Methow Valley. Fire spokesmen were not able to provide updated acreage Thursday night. There is zero containment on the complex, one of two major wildfires burning in central Washington.

"Our personnel have been so busy they're not able to get back to us quickly," fire spokesman Tim Perciful said.

For Friday's fire fight, "We're trying to get more state resources," Perciful said.

About 100 miles to the south, the Chiwaukum Creek Fire chased people from nearly 900 homes as it burned near the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth.

That fire sent a light dusting of ash over Leavenworth, and the fire's smoke plume rose 25,000 feet into the air. The blaze closed 15 miles of U.S. Highway 2.

Residents of 860 homes have been told they should leave immediately, fire officials said. Another 800 homes were less seriously threatened.

Authorities said Thursday that the Chiwaukum Creek Fire has grown to more than 10 square miles. It was first detected Tuesday.

"The weather and winds are not in our favor," said fire spokeswoman Mary Bean. Temperatures have been in the triple digits with winds gusting as high as 30 mph.

She said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

About 1,000 firefighters were fighting blazes around the state that included the Mills Canyon Fire, the state's largest at 35 square miles.

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.

Elsewhere across the West:

— OREGON: Two different lightning-sparked wildfires grew quickly in hot and dry conditions in central Oregon on Thursday, prompting evacuation alerts.

Authorities said the Bridge 99 fire in the Cascade Range 20 miles north of Sisters tripled in size and threatened rural homes along the Metolius River. A top-level evacuation advisory urged residents to leave their homes immediately.

In the Ochoco Mountains about 20 miles east of Prineville, the Bailey Butte Fire grew after getting into heavy timber in a wilderness area, prompting the Crook County Sheriff's office to advise residents of 27 homes to leave.

They were among 13 large fires burning across Oregon.

— UTAH: A wildfire encroaching on homes in the Tooele County town of Stockton had burned about 200 acres. Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands spokesman Jason Curry said the fire burned part of a water tower but it's believed no homes have been destroyed. A 27-year-old Tooele man has been arrested on charges that he ignited the fire with matches. Police said the suspect, Timothy West, was a volunteer firefighter for the town several years ago, Curry told The Salt Lake Tribune.

— IDAHO: In central Idaho, the lightning-caused Preacher Fire has scorched more than 50 square miles, burning quickly through grass and brush. Elsewhere, hundreds of crews were called in to battle a wildfire inside the Boise National Forest that is steadily spreading. The lightning-caused Whiskey Complex Fire consumed 7 square miles of forest land as of Thursday.

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