Evacuation levels drop in Gold Creek area
By Ann McCreary
Crews are working on mopping up, repairing roads, cutting down snags and constructing water bars on fire lines in the area burned by the Twisp River Fire, which was 98 percent contained on Tuesday (Sept. 1).
Within the 11,222-acre fire area, “there are still unburned islands that are still smoking, and some trees torching,” Connie Mehmel, public information officer for the U.S. Forest Service, said Tuesday.
The torching trees within the fire perimeter and resulting smoke may be alarming to residents but “is expected … and will continue until we get a season-ending event — a soaking rain,” Mehmel said.
“There are a lot of resources out there still working and mopping up and making sure it’s going to be solid when the wind blows,” she said.
On the north end of the Chelan Complex Fire, which includes fires in the Gold Creek area, the fire “has gotten down into Rainy Creek, which flows into the south fork of Gold Creek,” Mehmel said.
“That’s the most worrisome part, the north end of the Chelan Complex. It’s hot, it still wants to move,” she said. “If it gets dry again and there is wind, it could be a headache.” Fire crews were “trying to scout a line that bulldozers can use” in the rugged terrain, Mehmel said.
Helicopters continued dropping water in the area early this week and crews were providing structure protection in the Gold Creek and McFarland Creek areas, according to information from the Chelan Complex incident command.
Residents of Gold Creek were placed under immediate evacuation on Friday (Aug. 28) when strong winds boosted fire activity, but evacuation levels were dropped to Level 1 early this week.
Mehmel said she knew of no confirmed loss of homes in the area, although 21 homes have been confirmed burned throughout the Chelan Complex, most of which is in mop-up status.
The Twisp River Fire camp at the Riverbend RV Park north of Twisp was scheduled to close today, and crews working on the fire will relocate to the spike camp at Alta Lake, Mehmel said.
“We’re trying to get as much work done as we can, because there is a change predicted to warmer and drier weather over the weekend … sort of the opposite of striking while the iron is hot,” she said.
Although cooler, moister weather helped slow fire activity and provided some respite from smoke late last week and early this week, “it’s not over,” Mehmel warned.
“I know people are getting really, really tired of this. In particular, some folks in town — Twisp and Winthrop — are saying, ‘Why are we still on a level 1?’
“A level 1 is to tell people there’s fire in the area. To say the danger is over would be false. Until we get that season-ending event, that danger is still there.”
Other fire activity
In the eastern part of the Okanogan Complex Fire, the Lime Belt Fire in the Sinlahekin Valley was threatening to extend up toward Loomis, and helicopters were aggressively dumping water on the blaze, Mehmel said.
On the North Star Fire near Nespelem, crews were looking for opportunities to burn out line in the Aeneas Valley area when conditions are favorable, according to incident command reports.
On the Tunk Block Fire, burning east of Tonasket near the Aeneas Valley, firefighters were working to finish contingency line that will tie the North Star and Tunk Block fires together on the north side.
Based on estimates of the fire sizes as of Tuesday, “it’s safe to say over 400,000 acres” in Okanogan County have burned or are still burning, Mehmel said. By comparison, the Carlton Complex Fire last summer burned about 270,000 acres.
On the Okanogan Complex, which includes the Lime Belt Fire and Twisp River Fire, 22 crews (about 20 people per crew), 99 engines, 16 bulldozers, 27 water tenders and four helicopters were fighting fires early this week, Mehmel said. On the Chelan Complex 11 crews, 45 engines, six bulldozers, eight helicopters and 23 water tenders were working.
The Okanogan Public Utility District (PUD) said Monday (Aug. 31) that 785 power poles and 216 miles of distribution line have burned in the Okanogan Complex Fire. Power had been restored to all but about 55 customers, and the PUD hoped to have power restored to all customers by Friday (Sept. 4).
For up-to-date information on fire activity, evacuations and road closures in Okanogan County, call the Okanogan County emergency operations center at (509) 422-7348 or visit its Facebook page through a link on its website at okanogandem.org.
A forest fire near Robinson Mountain in the Pasayten Wilderness “got quite a lot of rain” in recent storms, Mehmel said. Weather had not permitted planes to fly over for a current evaluation of the fire as of Tuesday. She said the fire would be monitored.
The Upper Skagit Complex near Newhalem, about 8,505 acres, received heavy rain in recent days and the North Cascades Highway was reopened on Sunday (Aug. 30).
However, Washington Department of Transportation officials planned to monitor road conditions and clear falling rocks and vegetation.
Current information on road closures can be found at www.wsdot.com/traffic/.