Weeks of wildfires. Tree-toppling wild winds this past weekend. Evacuations and power outages.
At what’s normally the height of the summer tourist season, the Methow Valley in north-central Washington has been dealing with the forces of natures that have severely impacted local life — and tourism.
Sun Mountain Lodge near Winthrop, one of the loveliest lodges in the state, with hiking and mountain-biking trails right out its doors, evacuated guests (many of whom left all their belongings behind in the scramble to leave) on Friday because of the nearby Rising Eagle Road fire that broke out that day. The approximately 500-acre fire, which destroyed around a half-dozen homes, was under control Monday.
The lodge plans to reopen Tuesday at noon, said general manager Brian Charlton, after the evacuation status was officially downgraded Monday. The 112-room lodge’s buildings and extensive trails were not affected by the nearby Rising Eagle Road fire. But Sun Mountain Lodge, like many Methow Valley businesses, has had to cope with power outages and no water (since it’s pumped); the lodge was closed for 8 days in July because of the effects of the massive Carlton Complex Fire in addition to this past weekend’s closure.
More than 1,700 firefighters continue to battle the Carlton Complex Fire in the lower Methow Valley, which has scorched approximately 253,000 acres and destroyed about 300 homes in a mid-July firestorm, including in the town of Pateros. The fire, the largest in state history, was about 82 percent contained as of Monday.
Still, local life goes on around the small town of Winthrop in the upper Methow Valley and businesses and all major roads are open, including the scenic North Cascades Highway (Highway 20), the main artery from Western Washington. A play was performed this weekend, and people were out hiking in the clear air of the Cutthroat Lake trail above the valley on the eastern slope of the North Cascades. And while some tourists certainly are canceling and staying away, Sun Mountain manager Charlton said, “Guests are waiting to return, hoping to return. Sixty percent of our guests are repeat visitors and there’s great affection for the Methow.”
On Monday utility crews were restoring power after the weekend’s tree-toppling wind storm (with gusts that reportedly hit 80 mph), and the Rising Eagle Road fire, cut power to some areas. However, on Monday afternoon the upper Methow Valley, including Sun Mountain and Winthrop, was without landline phones and Internet service because of fiber-optic line issues. “Just as we can plan to reopen, the phones and Internet go down,” said Charlton with a sigh (and speaking from a cellphone).
Conditions around the Methow can change quickly since nature’s in charge. If you’re planning a trip to the Methow, here’s how you can get information (beyond phoning the place you intend to stay).
Official fire news: For the Carlton Complex fire (which now includes the Rising Eagle Road fire) see the official InciWeb website. It also has some updates on air quality(from smoke haze) if warranted.
Community news: The Facebook page of the Methow Valley News, a community newspaper published in the town of Twisp, has frequent updates and photos from staff and local residents.
The Winthrop Chamber of Commerce has lodging listings and other info.
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