Carlton Complex evacuations expand and close Highway 20


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Posted on July 17, 2014 at 7:20 PM

Updated yesterday at 7:34 PM

OKANOGAN COUNTY, Wash. — People were forced to evacuate part of Okanogan Co. again on Monday as Highway 20 was closed. Level 3 notices went out to people living in the following areas:

  • Pleasant Valley area
  • North Cook Mountain Rd.
  • Rock Creek
  • Buzzard Lake
  • Leader Lake
  • Alpine Lake
  • White Rock Rd.

The Okanogan County Sheriff told KREM 2 News the weather is finally giving firefighters a break on the massive Carlton Complex fire.

As of Monday  a fire spokesman said no homes were immediately threatened by the fire. Authorities said the fire in 2% contained.

Official said Spokane County Fire District 8 played a big role in saving homes. They said they saved 6 homes near Malott. A crew from Airway Heights also helped save homes in that area. 

The Okanogan County Sheriff said a retired Washington State Trooper, Rob Koczewski, died of an apparent heart attack while attempting to save his home. The 67-year-old and his wife were hauling water and digging lines on their property according to Sheriff Frank Rogers. Koczewski was well-known and respected throughout the community Rogers said. He also served as a Sergeant Major for the U.S. Marine Corps.

The sustained winds dropped to below 10 mph and temperatures cooled into the 70s Sunday, causing the fire to slow down its assault on Central Washington.

Rogers said the fire had moved away from populated areas and into timber.

"Today was the first day I was able to see the sun," said Rogers.

It was originally estimated that the Carlton Complex fire burned 299,897 but a spokesperson for Washington State Patrol said it has burned down 237,000 acres according to more accurate mapping.

If weather conditions stay favorable, fire crews plan to conduct a burn out operation. Residents may see a large amount of smoke at the north end of the fire.

The fire was slowly moving toward Winthrop and Twisp, but the towns aren't in immediate danger according to authorities.  Twisp is under a Level 2 evacuation order which means people there have to be ready to leave at a moment's notice.  Saturday afternoon fire crews had built a line east of the highway between Winthrop and Twisp. They said it is holding very well. Crews also said they had held the fire south of Libby Creek and Benson Creek.  The area of these two creeks is where fire crews are hoping to keep the fire so it doesn't move into Twisp.

No homes were lost on Saturday and firefighters were pleased that it hadn't grown significantly.  No serious injuries have been reported.

On Monday morning, emergency management leaders estimated the number of homes lost to the Carlton Complex fire at 150-200. Rogers said these homes were lost in the areas of Pateros, Malott, Alta Lake, Chiliwist and Star Road.

Level 3 mandatory evacuations were still in place at Alta Lake and Antoine Creek near Pateros Sunday night. Authorities said Alta Lake lost an estimated 52 homes to the fire.

The Carlton Complex fire destroyed one home in Malott Friday night and early Saturday morning.  The evacuation level for Malott was still a Level 3, but residents were allowed back in to check for damage.  Malott has about 500 residents.

Rogers said the wildfire has calmed down near Pateros, where it destroyed between 35 and 40 homes Thursday night.  He said it had run out of places to burn in that area.

Authorities said Pateros will likely be without power for a month.

Rogers said heat, humidity, wind and terrain are all challenges in fighting the fire.

Firefighters are focusing on protecting homes until winds die down long enough to start establishing containment lines.

Sheriff Rogers said this is the worst mass emergency situation he has ever been a part of.

All phone and internet services are still down in Winthrop, Twisp, Pateros and Mazama due to the expanding fires in the region. Services are intact in Mallot, Omak, Okanogan and Oroville still have phone and internet services but bandwidth is limited. Use ten digit phone #s [ (509) plus the # ] to contact local fire stations and police in case of an emergency when calling from those areas.  Authorities don't have an estimate for when this service will be fixed.

The Carlton Complex fire started as four smaller fires sparked by lightning on Monday.  Those fires merged into an 18,000 acre fire by Thursday night before expanding to 215,000 acres by Saturday.

This is the current list of Red Cross shelters in the area:

--Brewster High School, 503 S. 7th, Brewster

--Chelan High School, 215 W. Webster, Chelan

--Cornerstone Christian Fellowship Church, 328 N. Riverside, Omak

--Winthrop Barn Auditorium, 51 N. Hwy 20, Winthrop

Highway 153 is closed at milepost 6-21 and Highway 97 is closed between Pateros and Brewster according to fire information officers. Highway 20 has reopened between Omak and Twisp. You can contact the “511” automated Washington Department of Transportation Travel Information line for updated information.

Highway 97 from Brewster to Pateros and from Chelan to Peteros are closed.