A lightning storm and resulting strikes set off initial blazes around the region, notably around Texas Creek Road, Stokes Road, French Creek and Cougar Flat. In an unrelated event, a well-known fruit stand on Highway 153 is destroyed by fire.
The Lone Mountain 1 Fire starts above War Creek. It burns most of the summer, threatening the Twisp River drainage.
Evacuations and road closures begin in what is being called the Carlton Complex Fire, at the time consisting of several separate fires in the Methow Valley, notably in the Texas Creek and Gold Creek areas east of Carlton. Smoke fills the valley as fires increase in intensity.
From the Methow Valley News: “It’s kind of looking like one of those long drawn-out fire seasons. By mid-fire season, we’re all going to be competing for resources,” said Mick Mueller, a public affairs officer for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
A Washington state Type 3 management team is assigned to the fire.
A Type 2 management team is assigned to the fire and a firefighters’ camp begins to spring up at the Methow Valley School District campus on Twin Lakes Road.
The Carlton Complex Fire explodes into an unstoppable fire front that consumes about 123,000 acres in one day, nearly half the final total acreage covered by the fire.
As expected, the entire Methow Valley loses electrical power because of damage to Okanogan County Public Utility District transmission lines over Loup Loup Pass. The outage leaves 3,600 PUD customers and 3,500 Okanogan County Electric Cooperative customers without power. At the same time, Internet service and some telephone land lines are interrupted, and cell phone service provided by AT&T becomes unreliable or nonexistent. Most users of Verizon Wireless are still able to use their cell phones.
A community meeting to discuss the fires is held in the unlighted Methow Valley Community Center, and draws a standing-room-only crowd. First responder and agency representatives including Peter Goldmark, state commissioner of public lands, address the crowd and provide incident maps showing the fires’ spread, but are able to provide only general information. Fires can be seen burning northeast, east and south of Twisp from downtown.
Meanwhile, the fire has blasted over the hills east of the Methow Valley at a ferocious speed and descended as a firestorm on Pateros, where evacuation is under way.
State highways 153 and 20 into the Methow Valley are closed, leaving Highway 20 to the west over Washington Pass as the only way in or out of the valley by vehicle. Flight restrictions are in effect because of the fire and smoke.
In one day, the Carlton Complex Fire has gone from less than 45,000 acres to nearly 168,000 acres. What was once four separate fires is now one huge conflagration with a “donut hole” of unaffected land in the middle.
Twisp is put on Level 2 evacuation alert as fires sweep over Balky Hill, Beaver Creek and Finley Canyon.
The opening of Twelfth Night at The Merc Playhouse is postponed, and the Methow Valley Chamber Musical Festival is canceled. The Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival goes on as planned.
Highway 153 is re-opened to traffic.
The Carlton Complex Fire reaches 250,136 acres (390 square miles), making it the largest wildfire in Washington state history and the top-priority fire in the country.
From the Methow Valley News: “This is nothing short of a national disaster. I’ve never seen anything like this, of this magnitude, with this type of infrastructure damage we have.” — Rex Reed, deputy commander of the Washington Incident Management Team stationed at Liberty Bell High School.
The Okanogan County PUD power line over the Loup is repaired, and electricity restored to most of Methow Valley. But some customers south of Carlton remain without power.
The Rising Eagle Road Fire, west of Highway 20 between Twisp and Winthrop, explodes over hilly terrain beginning around 2 p.m., apparently caused by a spark thrown from a vehicle rim after a flat tire. It burns more than 500 acres and destroys 10 homes. A massive firefighting effort on the ground and in the air contains the fire, but not before it threatens the fire camp at Liberty Bell High School and forces evacuations and road closures in surrounding areas. Highway 20 is closed during the firefighting efforts.
A ferocious windstorm moves through the valley, toppling trees across roads and onto buildings. The storm causes more power outages.
Little Bridge Creek Fire starts west of Twisp and raises concerns because of its proximity to Twisp River and Sun Mountain Lodge. Parts of the fire are also visible from the Mazama area.
Officials begin to compile information about fire-related losses as the basis for an application for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to be submitted to Gov. Jay Inslee by Aug. 6. Local groups begin making plans for long-term recovery efforts.
Upper Falls Fire starts near Falls Creek in the Chewuch River drainage area northwest of Winthrop.
FEMA approves disaster declaration for public assistance to help repair public infrastructure damaged in the Carlton Complex Fire. But FEMA later denies a separate request for funds to help individuals, even after the governor appealed the decision.
The State Department of Commerce approves a $150,000 grant to help the Methow Valley and Okanogan County mount a marketing campaign to encourage tourism and draw visitors back to the region.
The Carlton Complex Fire is in the mop-up and containment phase. The fire camp is relocated to Twisp-Carlton Road.
Hank Cramer is chosen to head the Methow Valle Long-Term Recovery Organization; Room One is designated as the coordinating agency.
Torrential rains and resulting mudslides destroy or damage a dozen homes in the Benson Creek area, along Highway 153 between Twisp and Carlton, and on Frazer Creek along Highway 20. Fields are covered with mud and outbuildings destroyed as well. Three of the Wenner Lakes dams, between Benson Creek and Finley Canyon, collapse. State highways 20 and 153 suffer mudslide damage and both are closed for repairs.
Highway 20 is soon opened to single-lane traffic with a pilot car. Highway 153 repairs are slowed by a dispute between the state and a property owner over an easement necessary for work to continue. The state seeks condemnation of the land in dispute and eventually figures out a work-around that allows the road to be re-opened. The Highway 153 closure and a detour by way of Twisp-Carlton Road cause an enormous economic hardship at the Carlton General Store.
The Carlton Complex Fire is declared contained.
Highway 153 between Carlton and Twisp is re-opened for traffic.
Claims are filed by 65 individuals against the state of Washington for damages caused by the Carlton Complex Fire.
A cracked supporting column forces closure of the Methow River bridge at Carlton, and the road is closed again. Emergency repairs allow the road to be re-opened on Oct. 23.
The Okanogan County commissioners hold a public meeting to gather information regarding the management of the Carlton Complex Fire. They invite the public to express concerns or commendations about the performance of various agencies during the fire.
The state Senate Natural Resources & Parks Committee holds a hearing about the state’s most severe recent natural disasters, the Carlton Complex Fire and the Oso mudslide. Okanogan County Commissioner Ray Campbell, Twisp Mayor Soo Ing-Moody and Pateros Mayor George Brady testify and ask for financial support to rebuild infrastructure and housing. Campbell criticizes the Washington Department of Natural Resources for negligence and failure to save homes.
A 4-foot diameter culvert installed to try to contain runoff from the Leecher Creek drainage becomes plugged with mud and debris brought down by heavy rain and sends water over Highway 153 again. The highway remains open as Washington State Department of Transportation works on repairs.