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July 18, 2014 at 10:01 AM

‘This is a fire storm’: Wildfires take out 100 homes near Pateros

Buildings in Pateros after a wildfire swept through the town on Thursday night. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Buildings in Pateros after a wildfire swept through the small Central Washington town on Thursday night. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

As many as 80 to 100 homes have been destroyed by the fast-moving fires in Okanogan County, Sheriff Frank Rogers said.

“We deal with fires all the time, but I’ve never seen it destroy so many homes,” said Rogers, who has lived in the county 30 years.

With power out through Pateros and Twisp along Highway 20, getting a firm count on the destroyed homes has been difficult.

Emma Franco, center in white, lost her mobile home and has no insurance.  (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Emma Franco, center in white, lost her mobile home and has no insurance. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

Rogers said his deputies  counted 30 destroyed homes in Pateros, 40 at Alta Lake and at least a dozen in other locations.

Two members of Rogers’ own staff  – one who works in the county jail and another who works in dispatch – lost their homes.

“This fire was moving so fast I don’t know how we didn’t lose someone,” said Rogers.

He said the county is getting offers of support from outside areas,  “but what we really need is a break in the weather to get this fire to stop or slow down.”

In Pateros this morning, brick chimneys were all that was left of some buildings, and fire could be seen spreading up nearby hillsides.

At a news conference Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the state is working to quickly train 1,000 National Guard troops in Yakima to respond to the blazes. He said the activation of 100 National Guard units was the largest since 1994.

Inslee called the swiftly moving fires “overpowering” and beyond the ability of firefighters to contain right now due to dry forest conditions. The priority of emergency responders now is on “personal safety,” he said.

Inslee urged residents in fire zones to obey emergency evacuation orders.

“I know people have seen fires before. This is a different beast. This is a fire storm,” he said.

Families displaced from the fire filed into  the Red Cross evacuation shelter at Chelan High School all through the night and Friday morning.

Tiloura Lund left the Methow area at 11 Thursday night. The bridge she drove across had “flames both sides, higher than truck,” she said.

Around noon, a woman came in with her two-week-old baby. “They have no house,” shouted a volunteer as she brought them to check in.

Volunteers also showed up in droves, many with donations. They tried to make the fire victims as comfortable as possible, offering them food, water and showers. There was a playroom for kids and a separate room to change diapers.

By noon, 113 victims had signed in, Red Cross spokeswoman Megan Snow said. None had reported serious injuries.

At 1 p.m., Chelan County Sheriff Brian Burnett spoke to shelter victims in the high school library. Unfortunately, there was little comforting news to give the crowd of several dozen, many of whom had lost their homes to the fire.

There were still no sound figures on structural damage. There was no information about specific addresses. Fires were still blazing north and south; one now moving down in the direction of Chelan.

“We just want to be prepared in the future if that tends to move further on,” he said.

There was one only piece of good news for the group: “There’s not been one reported loss of life,” Burnett said.

Chiwaukum Creek fire

The Chiwaukum Creek fire near Leavenworth continues to blaze, but it has not crossed Highway 2 into private land, according to Bob MacGregor, the fire information officer handling the blaze.

“The wind, even though it blew very hard, didn’t hit the active fire front,” MacGregor said.

Firefighters are more optimistic, “but there’s still a lot of potential” for the fire to cross Highway 2, he said.

If it does cross the highway, subdivisions in the Plain area would be threatened.

Fire crews are using bulldozers to build a fire line outside of the wilderness boundary to help prevent the fire from going north. The blaze has burned 8,347 acres and is zero percent contained.

Seattle Times reporters Andy Mannix, Jim Brunner and Eric Lacitis contributed to this report.

More on the fires:
Hundreds flee wildfires in Central Washington

 Fires close several highways east of the Cascades

Other states send firefighting help to Washington

Wildfires stymie tourism on east side of the Cascades

Photos: Wildfires scorch state

Comments | Topics: fire, Okanogan, Pateros

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