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'Chances are our place went up': Family awaits word on damage to home from Palmer Fire

A resident said she watched the fire in Okanogan County as the wind turned at about 7 p.m. That’s when they decide to pack up and leave.

OKANOGAN COUNTY, Wash. — A woman, her husband and their cat are staying in a hotel as they wait to hear official word on whether their home is still standing as the Palmer Fire burns through the area west of Wannacut Lake in Okanogan County.

Elizabeth Garner-Smith lives about two or three miles from Wannacut Lake. She said she got a call from a neighbor at about 4 p.m. Tuesday.

“We started seeing the smoke, somebody from down the hill called and said, ‘are you looking?’ And we looked out back because we don’t normally look out that way,” Garner-Smith said. “And we look up there, and we were smelling the smoke and seeing the smoke, but they said if the wind changed it was going to the northwest which went the other way, it was coming up the ridge.”

She said she watched the fire as the wind turned at about 7 p.m. and that’s when they decide to pack up and leave.

“I threw the cat in the car, we couldn’t find her carrier,” Garner-Smith said. “And we ended up just grabbing what we could. We had most of our stuff. I don’t think he believed this was going to happen.”

Garner-Smith said she believes their home is gone, though she hasn’t seen it for herself and she hasn’t been able to get any information from fire officials.

“We were living out there, we were just getting established,” she said. “We’d only been out there since 2013.”

Garner-Smith said they live off the grid and they don’t have fire insurance because there isn’t a fire department nearby.

“We don’t have power, unless we produce it,” she said. “I’ve been doing everything from scratch for a while now.”

When they decided to leave, she said there were people lining up on the side of the road watching the fire. She said people were still coming down from the mountain at midnight.     

Garner-Smith said she and her husband have been thinking about leaving the area but hadn’t made the move yet.

“I think I needed to be here so I could help my neighbors through it,” she said. “And now that they are going to be doing better, I can go and not have to worry about them.”

She said the shock has started to wear off and she’s heartbroken.

“We had such hopes and dreams that everything would work out for the best,” she said.

Garner-Smith and her family are staying at the Red Apple Inn in Tonasket, which is serving as a "non-congregate" Red Cross shelter. The organizations is covering the cost of rooms for fire evacuees. 

Garner-Smith said they’ll stay there until they can figure out what’s going on.

“If I’m correct because, from the places we can see from our house, chances are our place went up,” she said.

As of Thursday, Level 2 and 3 evacuations have been issued for areas west of Wannacut Lake due to the fire.

The fire began burning at about 2:51 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 18. It is estimated at 11,191 acres and growing as of Thursday, according to fire officials.

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