By Matt Taylor
A sudden and intense storm cell rolled over North Central Washington in the early hours of Monday morning (June 25), causing downed trees, power outages and small fires throughout the valley.
The storm, with wind gusts of 50 to 60 miles per hour, started at least three small fires between Twisp and Mazama. The first blaze was reported just outside of Mazama on Highway 20, the second occurred off of Highway 20 next to the Twin Lakes intersection, and the third burned a small patch of land by the Twisp Airport Road.
All of the fires were caused by downed or obstructed power lines, and were under control within a number of hours.
“Luckily, they all stayed pretty small,” said Okanogan County Fire District 6 Chief Cody Acord.
While extensive lightning strikes were reported throughout the valley, they, fortunately, did not start any fires.
Downed trees and high winds did more than simply start fires. Across Okanogan County, the extreme weather left about 4,700 Okanogan PUD customers without power. Outages in the Methow were relatively short — most of the customers in the valley saw power returned by Monday afternoon. However, despite the PUD’s best efforts, about 85 homes in other areas of Okanogan County were still without power on Tuesday (June 26).
“We had crews out working until 1 a.m. this [Tuesday] morning,” said an Okanogan PUD employee. “In some of the more remote areas, we might not even know about outages for days.”
Additionally, the Methow saw damage from downed trees, as a significant number fell onto roads and in yards across the valley. One fell on a home in Twisp, causing extensive damage to the 120-year-old structure. The 100-foot pine tree was blown onto the house about 2:30 a.m., startling the couple sleeping in another part of the home.
“They heard some branches break, heard the glass break, and then went outside and saw the tree across the house,” said Lisa Doran, a niece of residents Marty and Gerry Greer, Fortunately, the terrifying incident left the Greers unharmed.
Winds also blew over a small kiosk at the recycling center south of Twisp, according to a Facebook post by Methow Recycles. The kiosk, which served as the collection point for fluorescents, printer cartridges, small batteries and plastic film, will be out of commission until the center figures out how to get it back into its upright position.
Though the worst of the storm appears to be over, high winds and low levels of humidity are expected to remain throughout the week, leaving the region vulnerable to new fires. A red flag warning was in effect for the Chelan and Wenatchee valleys on Monday morning, while a “hazardous weather outlook” was instituted for much of the rest of eastern Washington, including the Methow. As of Tuesday, those warnings had been lifted, though the elevated fire risk normally associated with the summer months remains.
Earlier, a wildlands fire apparently caused by a lightning strike during afternoon thunderstorms on June 21 broke out on brushy, hilly property east of Highway 153 at about milepost 28.3, shortly after 4 p.m. Firefighters from District 6, the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Forest Service responded to the fire. Larry Smith, whose mother owns the property, said he saw the strike and reported the fire immediately, and directed firefighters to access roads. A helicopter with a water bucket was also deployed to fight the blaze, which was extinguished later that day.