CARLTON – Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers ordered the evacuation of the city of Pateros and a hospital in Brewster as the Methow Valley went into a state of mild panic today with the news that wildfires had jumped rivers and highways, burned several homes and raced toward the valley’s only source of power.
By tonight, the blaze entered Pateros city limits.
Rogers said this evening that several homes were on fire in the city of Pateros. The Stokes Road Fire made its way to Highway 97 today, and was burning homes on the north side of the highway.
“We’ve lost 4, 5, 6 homes. It seems like the whole town is on fire,” said the sheriff, who was at the scene trying to evacuate residents. The fire was estimated at over 47,000 acres this afternoon, and growing.
By late afternoon, highways 20 and 153 were closed and the valley went dark at about 4:30 p.m. when fire reached the power line that parallels the Loup Loup Highway. At 6:30 p.m., officials closed Highway 97 at Pateros as fire moved close to the roadway and was expected to cross it.
The Okanogan County Sheriff’s office issued hundreds of evacuation notices, including the recommendation to leave immediately for everyone living between Carlton and Pateros, and up to Brewster on the north side of Highway 97.
All afternoon, people lined up at gas stations and stocked up on food and essentials to ready for the coming power outage. Okanogan County Electric Co-op officials said the duration of the valley-wide outage will depend on whether power poles were damaged by fire. If they were, it could be three days before power is restored, said Co-op technician Deanna Melton.
Meanwhile, smoke filled the valley from Pateros to Winthrop as four fires grew to as yet-undetermined sizes. The power outage will not affect the efforts of more than 500 firefighters now battling the Carlton Complex, said fire spokeswoman Josie Williams. It will make base camp a little less comfortable, but firefighting operations use generators for their essential power needs, she said.
Williams said information about the fires’ sizes and structures lost is sparse because of the ever-changing nature of the fires.
“There is so much going on. It is such a fluid situation,” she said. “Everyone is working to capacity.”
As of this morning, officials said 11 homes had burned and the fire had consumed 18,000 acres.
Residents throughout the valley were getting prepared, even if their homes were not near the fire. Greg Autrey, of Twisp, waited in line Thursday afternoon at Hank’s Mini Market for fuel, his car packed with ice and water. He said he just texted his sister a photo of the lines at the gas station - usually unheard of in this rural town.
Autrey said he wasn’t worried about himself or his house. But, he said, “I have a 90-year-old grandmother, so I am getting her packed up and ready to leave.”
At the Carlton General Store, residents were coming in exhausted after working to protect their homes since Monday’s lightning storm ignited these fires.
Barb Dubie said firefighters saved her home on Lower Stokes Road near Carlton Wednesday night, but she went home today to find them battling fire from another front.
She had moved out her great dane, her pug, and three parrots, one of whom talks. “She kept saying, ’Oooh, we’re going for a ride,’” Dubie said as she was packing her minivan. She is staying at the Carlton Motel until her home is safe enough to return.
Melissa Kendrick, who works at the Carlton General Store, said she came to work this morning with her car packed up and brought her dogs and cats in case fire reached her home a couple miles away. “It’s really, really, really, crazy,” she said. “There’s lots of people calling to see if we’re open, and if we have gas, and if the road’s open.”
Store owner Jeff Lyman said the only things he packed were underwear, an ax and his fishing rods. “That was it; the rest of it can go,” he said.
Lyman said he’s been staying open late to accommodate friends and neighbors, and is struck by how much everyone is helping everyone else. “I know everyone’s house that’s in danger, and everyone’s house that’s burned. It’s tough,” he said. “But,” he added, “the thing about this place is we don’t skip a beat. And it doesn’t matter who you are - mi casa, es su casa.”
Dennis Ryan, who lives not far from the Carlton store, said he thought Wednesday night he’d be looking for somewhere to go when the Stokes Road Fire crossed Highway 153 and swept up Justin Road, where he lives. Firefighters couldn’t stay to protect his house because there is no escape route, he said.
“All of us abandoned ship. We drove out in the alfalfa field and sat on the roof of the car and watched the four-foot flames race across his property. He didn’t know what to expect when he went home today. His 14 acres of forest and sagebrush now look like a moonscape, he said.
“The house is still there. It’s like an oasis out in the desert,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.