Southern Okanogan County, devastated by wildfire over the last two weeks, has the look of a war zone right after the combat has finished. The front has moved on, leaving ruined homes, blackened earth and the smell of smoke.
I took a drive through the area last weekend and found plenty of evidence of the pitched battle that raged after lightning July 14 touched off the Carlton Complex fire. Worst-hit is the town of Pateros, at the confluence of the Methow and Columbia rivers. Approximately 25 percent of the homes within the city limits and the area immediately surrounding the city were destroyed. Devastation was near-complete at the Alta Lake Golf Course just outside the city, where Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers counts 52 homes burned. He counts another 30 within the city limits, and a county-wide total of 300, from the Methow Valley to Brewster. He cautions that his numbers are neither precise nor complete: The complete picture of devastation is only beginning to emerge. “It’s so hard,” he says.
And anyone who walks the empty streets snapping pictures of the devastation and damage — the burned-out foundations, the melted mailboxes, the toppled power poles — can imagine the chaos of that night, and perhaps feel a bit uncomfortable, as the sense of human tragedy sinks in.
Check out The Seattle Times editorial published on July 23: “State’s wildfires a reminder of nature’s force”