Wildfires evacuate more towns in Okanogan County

Firefighters continue to battle raging wildfires in

Firefighters continue to battle raging wildfires in Okanogan County Friday. KING

OKANOGAN, Wash. – More towns were under mandatory evacuation order as raging wildfires continued their advance through Okanogan County Friday evening.

Emergency Management listed the following evacuations as of 9 p.m. Friday:

  • Level 3 (evacuate immediately) includes Aeneas Valley, Concully, Malott, Omak Flats and Winthrop; certain roads near the town of Republic off Highway 395: Carson Road, Pool Road, Murphy Road, Harter Way and BJ Place.
  • Level 2 includes Okanogan, Riverside, Tonasket and Twisp.
  • Level 1 (which means residents should be ready for a potential evacuation) includes Brewster, Carlton, Chesaw, Mazama, Molson, Omak, Oroville and Pateros.

Evacuees and residents impacted by the fire are advised to shelter at Brewster Middle/High School in Brewster (503 S. 7th Street). Questions should be directed to the local Red Cross at (509) 670-5331. Cats and dogs are able to stay at the WASART shelter nearby. Free camping and showers for evacuees are also available at Okanogan Legion Park, 999 2nd Avenue N in Okanogan.

Officials say a failure at a Malott utility substation is causing power outages to Malott, Twisp and Winthrop. The Loup Transmission Line from Carlton to Twisp and Twisp to Mazama is also impacted. The earliest estimate for restoration is Saturday.

Obama signs emergency declaration for Washington wildfires

Earlier Friday, Pres. Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration, ordering federal aid to assist in battling Washington state’s wildfires.

The White House says the declaration allows FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts. The order specifically covers Asotin, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Klickitat, Okanogan, Pend Orielle, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, and Yakima counties. It also brings aid to the Colville, Spokane, Kalispel, and Yakima tribes.

The news comes none too soon as firefighting resources are being stretched thin. National guard soldiers were headed to the fire lines Friday and, for the first time in state history, volunteers are being asked to fight the fires. Washington officials say more than 3,000 people have called and emailed in response to the state’s request for volunteer help with wildfires.

 As soon as the crew hosed down the house, flames picked
There were 820 firefighters fighting the blazes Friday, many working round-the-clock.

“They’re tired. They’re working long hours. They’re not getting sleep. They’re getting chased from one house to another but they’re giving it their best. They’re doing a great job,” said Todd Pechota, incident commander.

He also made it clear that firefighter safety is a top priority. It’s top of mind after three firefighters were killed and four were injured Wednesday. Officials on Friday released more details about the events leading up to their deaths.

“I am not going to get somebody hurt or killed protecting stuff,'” said Pechota.

Volunteers began showing up overnight, equipment at the ready, to hit the fire lines.

“I’ve had experience with equipment, tankers, water trucks,” said one volunteer. “It’s just something I feel I need to do. To this, it’s just like we’re being invaded and it’s time to step and do what needs to be done.”

But not all the volunteers who show up will be able to help. They need to meet certain qualifications.

Officials: ‘No idea’ how many homes lost

The Okanogan Complex consists of five wildfires that are burning in north-central Washington. More than 5,100 homes are threatened. The out-of-control blazes have destroyed buildings, but the situation is so chaotic that authorities have “no idea” how many homes may have been lost.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Friday that “we have lost them, but I don’t know how many.”

The complex of fires that killed three firefighters near Twisp earlier this week has blown up, growing more than 100 square miles in a day to 252 square miles by Friday morning. That’s larger than the cities of Seattle and Tacoma combined.

Parts of the town of Okanogan and all of Tonasket were evacuated overnight Thursday into Friday. Evacuations in Tonasket were reduced later Friday morning, as well as in Twisp. Residents of those towns can return to their homes but were warned to be ready to evacuate at a moment’s notice.

Emergency response leaders are urging residents who have not been evacuated to stay off the roads. They say driving conditions are dangerous.

“Stay inside. There’s no reason to be outside,” said Todd Magliocca, section chief for Okanogan Emergency Operations Center. “That keeps them close to the radio. That keeps them close to their computers and that keeps them updated so when a Level 3 is given, they’re getting it in a timely manner.”

Magliocca stressed that staying connected is important because conditions can change dramatically in a matter of minutes.

Social media has been key for emergency managers to get the word out quickly this week. A common phrase seen on many posts regarding evacuations is “Do not wait for door-to-door notification.”