Updated at 2:30 p.m., July 17, 2014
By Ann McCreary
A public information meeting about the fires ravaging the Methow Valley has been called for 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, July 17) at the Methow Valley Community Center in Twisp.
The community meeting was called by the Incident Management Team that is directing firefighting efforts in the valley. The fires, which are being referred to as the Carlton Complex, had covered about 18,000 acres as of Thursday morning.
Two homes are confirmed to have been lost to the fires, Okanogan County Emergency Manager Scott Miller said Thursday afternoon.
A home at the end of Upper Beaver Creek Road was destroyed by the Cougar Flat Fire burning in the east of Pearrygin Lake, Miller said. Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Don Waller confirmed the loss, Miller said.
Another home on Highway 153 at Libby Creek was also burned, Miller said.
There are unconfirmed reports of eight structures burned in the vicinity of Jason Lucas Road off French Creek Road, Miller said.
“We think there are probably eight structures. We don’t know if they are pump houses, barns, or sheds. They are unconfirmed because we can’t get in there to count,” Miller said.
Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said he had heard Thursday from a resident of Bill Shaw Road near the town of Methow that a friend had lost her home, but had no confirmation of that report.
Rogers said he and a deputy watched a structure burn around noon today as he was in the area of Watson Draw, off the Bill Shaw Road.
“We watched a structure on the hill [above the draw] burn. We think it was a lean-to structure,” Rogers said. A nearby house “looked fine,” Rogers said.
Highway 20 over Loup Loup Pass was closed this afternoon between mileposts 206 and 215.
“There was enough smoke in the area that DOT (the Washington State Department of Transportation) and the state patrol decided to close it,” Miller said.
The rapidly changing fire situation in the Methow Valley is resulting in multiple evacuations, road closures, and the potential loss of electrical power to the valley.
The Okanogan PUD announced at 11 a.m. that the transmission line over Loup Loup Pass was in jeopardy, and valley residents should prepare for the potential loss of power.
David Gottula, general manager of the Okanogan County Electric Co-op, said fires from the Carlton Complex had approached to within a mile of the line at about 11 a.m., and wind appeared to be pushing the fire toward the line.
Cars were backing up at local gas stations as word of the potential power outage spread, and shoppers were loading up on water and ice.
Emergency workers and Okanogan County Sheriff’s deputies were going door-to-door to issue evacuation orders to residents living in the path of fires burning near Carlton and the Cougar Flat Fire, burning east of Pearrygin Lake.
That fire was estimated at 5,000 acres Thursday morning and was growing rapidly, said Jacob McCann, public information officer for the Incident Management Team that is headquartered at Liberty Bell High School.
“This is rapidly evolving, and the evacuations are changing rapidly as well. Deputies are going door-to-door in areas where there are evacuations,” McCann said.
He said the evacuations are happening so quickly that public information officers at fire headquarters are not certain which areas are under evacuation orders.
The Stokes Road Fire jumped Highway 153 Wednesday night and combined with the Golden Hike Fire, consuming 10,000 acres as of Thursday morning. The French Creek Fire had burned 3,000 acres, McCann said.
About 500 personnel are involved in fighting the fire as of Thursday morning, and that number is expected to increase, McCann said.
The Washington National Guard yesterday sent two helicopters and 14 personnel to Eastern Washington to assist fire crews battling the Carlton Complex fires burning in the Methow Valley.
McCann said six helicopters and three fixed-wing aircraft were working on the fires Thursday morning.
With temperatures expected to reach the 90s and windy conditions, the Methow Valley is under a red flag warning.
“We’re expecting rapid fire growth and extreme fire behavior,” McCann said.