WINTHROP, Wash. (AP) — Howling winds pushed a massive wildfire in north-central Washington 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 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.
“There’s people who live all around up there,” he said.
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.”
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 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, 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.
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.
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 to the east.
About 100 miles to the south, the Mills Canyon-Chiwaukum Creek complex of fires earlier chased people from nearly 900 homes as it sent 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, fire spokesman Bob MacGregor said.
In Grant County, three small communities were told to be prepared to evacuate if necessary due to a wildfire burning in neighboring Kittitas County, the Grant County Sheriff’s office said.
The governors of both Washington and Oregon 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 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 Gene Johnson and Donna Gordon Blankinship in Seattle, Rachel La Corte in Olympia, Nick Geranios in Brewster and Jeff Barnard in Grants Pass, Oregon.