High winds push growing Methow Valley wildfire

WINTHROP — A massive wildfire that has forced the evacuation of towns, destroyed numerous homes and blackened scenic hillsides in north-central Washington has been burning into new areas, fueled by dry conditions and gusty winds.

The lightning-caused fire by Saturday had scorched nearly 340 square miles in the scenic Methow Valley. The fire was measured at 260 square miles Friday.

Road closures and evacuations were changing regularly, as hot weather and winds with gusts up to 30 mph were pushing the fire over ridge tops and toward a cluster of small towns northeast of Seattle.

“This is a very active and fluid situation,” fire spokesman Chuck Turey said.

People living between Carlton and Pateros have been told to leave their homes. The fire has downed power lines and many towns were without electrical power or phone service Saturday.

There were no reports of serious injuries. Minor burns and bruises had been reported, but Turey called that “a pretty amazing safety record.”

On Saturday, officials said that only one more structure was destroyed overnight by the blaze.

Airplanes and helicopters were dropping water and fire retardant on all parts of the fire, with no one area more of a concern than another, Turey said.

“We’re seeing some wind shifts so that the fire is going to be pushed in some directions it hasn’t been pushed to date,” he said, adding that the good news is that in some places the wind is pushing the first back on itself.

Rancher Vic Stokes, 60, went to bed Friday thinking the fires had calmed down and his ranch outside of Twist was safe.

He and his family have been fighting brush fires since Thursday, getting little sleep.

By Saturday, a fire had jumped to a nearby creek bed. Stokes, his son and his daughter-in-law spent the morning clearing brush. “Anything that hasn’t burned has a chance of burning yet,” Stokes said.

So far, his home is intact, but he’s lost hay and a barn and is worried for livestock he had grazing in an area that’s now scorched.

“We need to get up there and see what we can find that’s alive. We know we lost cattle,” he said.

As the fire got closer to Carlton, rancher Pete Scott brought 60 cattle to his property in town from the range land. His home, a green oasis, is serving a meeting point for some of the displaced residents. “We’re trying to survive,” Scott said.

The fire has calmed down near Pateros, where it destroyed about 100 homes Thursday and Friday, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said. “It’s just starting to run out of places to burn,” he said.

The fire has picked up on its north side closer to Winthrop, but winds have been erratic and were blowing the fire in different directions.

The blaze was burning in a sparsely populated area, with homes scattered throughout the woods and along the highway.

Fire officials said the Chiwaukum Creek Fire west of Leavenworth has grown to more than 10,000 acres by Saturday evening.

The blaze closed U.S. 2 from Coles Corner to Leavenworth. The fire was burning north of the highway but a spot fire flared up to the south on Saturday that was quickly put out, officials said.

KING-TV in Seattle reported that there are no reports of structures being burned, but residents in the area near Leavenworth are under an evacuation order, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Gov. Jay Inslee said about 50 fires were burning in Washington, which has been wracked by hot, dry weather, gusting winds and lightning. Some 2,000 firefighters were working in the eastern part of the state, with about a dozen helicopters from the Department of Natural Resources and the National Guard, along with a Washington State Patrol spotter plane.

Karina Shagren, spokeswoman for the state’s Military Department, said 100 National Guard troops were on standby, and up to 1,000 more in Yakima could receive additional fire training. Active duty military could be called in as well, Inslee said.

The Washington state Department of Natural Resources announced Saturday evening that firefighters from New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming are coming to the state to help battle the blazes.

Early Saturday, authorities announced that they are bringing in two military air tankers from Wyoming to help fight wildfires in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. Officials at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho, say the tankers were activated to ensure that firefighters had adequate air tanker capability in the region.

Blankinship reported from Seattle. Associated Press writer Rachel La Corte contributed to this report from Olympia.

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