AP: ap_2f7d4bd6e5bb2a1b5a0f6a706700a33f
A large cloud rises over wildfires in Eastern Washington as seen from University District at sunset on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, in Seattle, Wash. Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor's offices in both Washington and Oregon to declare a state of emergency, a move that enables state officials to call up the National Guard. In Washington, that declaration covers 30 eastern Washington counties. (AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Bessex)

Town set to celebrate 100 years burned by wildfire

Pateros was set to celebrate its 100th anniversary this weekend at its annual Apple Pie Festival, but a fast-moving wildfire has nearly wiped the small north- central Washington town off the map.

"It looks like a Moonscape now," Tom Miller told KIRO Radio from his family's property in Pateros. "This thing was miles wide. It just burned everything down."

The Carlton Complex fire, one of four wildfires currently burning in Washington, blackened 260 square miles by Friday morning, up dramatically from the last estimate of 28 square miles.

One-hundred homes have been destroyed, officials estimate, and power has been cut to most of the scenic Methow Valley. It's also prompted the evacuation of the town of 650 as well as a nearby hospital.

Miller has lived on the property for more than 60 years. His brothers and sisters also have homes there. One of the five homes was destroyed. But so far, Miller says, "We're lucky."

Officials say no injuries have been reported. "This is a very dynamic situation," says fire spokesman, Dan Omdal. "Fire activity is really high. Things are changing very quickly."

On Friday, the main event scheduled for Pateros' Apple Pie Jamboree was pie and ice cream in the park.

Now, Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers says only a few "stragglers" remain.

Miller says he's never seen a fire move so fast. There wasn't time to grab keepsakes or save anything. "It just rolled through."

Rogers says the fire jumped U.S. Highway 97 between Brewster and Pateros and was burning along the Columbia River. Sections of several highways are closed in the county.

The Okanogan County Sheriff's dispatch office says the roughly 300 residents of the Chiliwist Valley, about 15 miles north of Pateros, evacuated late Thursday night.

Two major power lines --one feeding Pateros and one feeding Winthrop and Twisp -- have burned, causing a widespread power outage in the county, says county emergency manager Scott Miller.

Most of the Methow Valley from Carlton to Mazama was without power after utility poles burned.

About 100 miles to the south, the Chiwaukum Creek Fire chased people from nearly 900 homes as it burned near the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth.

That fire sent a light dusting of ash over Leavenworth, and the fire's smoke plume rose 25,000 feet into the air. The blaze closed 15 miles of U.S. Highway 2.

Residents of 860 homes have been told they should leave immediately, fire officials said. Another 800 homes were less seriously threatened.

Authorities said Thursday that the Chiwaukum Creek Fire has grown to more than 10 square miles. It was first detected Tuesday.

"The weather and winds are not in our favor," said fire spokeswoman Mary Bean. Temperatures have been in the triple digits with winds gusting as high as 30 mph.

She said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

Worsening wildfire activity has prompted the governor's offices in both Washington and Oregon to declare states of emergency, a move that allows state officials to call up the National Guard.

MyNorthwest.com's Alyssa Kleven and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


Chris Sullivan, KIRO Radio Reporter
Chris loves the rush of covering breaking news and works hard to try to make sense of it all while telling stories about real people in extraordinary circumstances.
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