|7/23/2014 8:10:00 PM|
Fires continue to blaze in Chelan, Okanogan counties
By Erich Hilkert And Amber Schlenker
|Above, Entiat Mayor Keith Vradenburg snapped this shot of the Mills Canyon fire last week.|
The Mills Canyon Wildfire started on July 8. Since then, incident management officials have been working towards containment. As of Monday morning, July 21, officials have estimated the blaze near Entiat to be about 75 percent contained.
Officials say dry fuels consisting of short grass, brush and scattered timber on steep, rocky terrain challenged suppression efforts for fire crews.
Cooperating agencies include U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Washington State Department of Natural Resources, (WA DNR), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Chelan County Emergency Management, the Chelan County Sheriff's Office, and Chelan County Fire District 8.
As of Monday afternoon, the Mills Canyon Fire was 22,571 acres in size. The cause of the large brush fire is still unknown, officials say, and there were a total of 251 personnel working on containing the blaze.
Monday, officials said, "Fire activity continues to be minimal, with creeping and smoldering." Firefighters are continuing to implement fire suppression repair work in all approved areas of the fire. They are also continuing to hold and patrol all areas.
The Incident Command Post (ICP) at Entiat High School was moved to Hatchery ICP in Leavenworth on Sunday.
The Mills Canyon fire will continue to be managed by the PNW Team 3, and a small camp with logistical support will be maintained at Entiat High School for associated resources on the Mills Canyon fire, as well as resources assigned to the Kelly and Duncan fires.
While crews continued to work towards containment of the Mills Canyon and other surrounding fires, the Carlton Complex Wildfire was ablaze in the Methow Valley.
Chelan welcomed a swell of "new neighbors" to Chelan High School, as a good portion of Pateros residents were displaced in a matter of minutes Thursday night, July 17.
The fire is part of the Carlton Complex fires that began July 14 by lighting strikes in the Methow Valley and has since moved across the ridge into Pateros and areas of Brewster.
As of Friday (July 18) at 3 p.m., approximately 168,713 acres had been burned. That number swelled to 237,890 acres by Sunday afternoon. Fortunately, incident management officials announced as of Monday, July 21, at about noon, the perimeter of the fire was nearly 2 percent contained. As of Monday morning, 1,622 firemen were working to stop the blaze.
Residents in the Antoine Creek and Union Valley areas have been under several levels of evacuation, including 1, 2 and 3. However, as of Monday at about 3:30 p.m., Don Carpenter, a fire information call center representative, said that areas surrounding Antoine Creek and Washington Creek were still at Level 3.
As firemen are getting a handle on what is being called the largest wildfire ever seen in Washington state, the Okanogan County Sheriff's office says, "If you come home to three ribbons tied on your mailbox, fence post, etc., you're under a Level 3 evacuation. You should evacuate immediately."
Pateros residents are still without power, and some have running water. However, there was still a boil water order in effect as of Monday afternoon. Plenty of shelters were set up Thursday night in Chelan, Wenatchee and Omak.
The American Red Cross Apple Valley Chapter was quick to respond to the situation, providing shelter at Pateros High School and in nearby Twisp. The fire spread so rapidly, however, that the Pateros High School shelter had to be shut down with a relatively quick relocation to both Cornerstone Christian Fellowship Church in Omak and Chelan High School.
Emergency Management authorities estimated on Friday 300-500 homes were evacuated including the Pateros Red Cross shelter.
Christina Eglin, an AmeriCorps Disaster Services Coordinator in Yakima, showed considerable calm during the demanding situation.
"We've opened up the shelter," Eglin said Thursday night. "We're at the high school right now and we have some clients in here who have been evacuated and we've had a wonderful influx of people coming to volunteer services and goods. We very much appreciate it."
Eglin explained that Chelan High School was chosen because its capacity capabilities and because of facilities that include showers and a dining area.
Maggie Whiteman, of Wenatchee, decided to offer a hand following the completion of Bach Fest rehearsal at the high school.
"I am one of the Bach Fest musicians and I'm staying out of town. I'm staying in Manson with a host family. So, normally I drive into town and bike around the city. I got on my bike because I was going to bike to my car and go home. I was sitting there and I heard two families pull up. There was one family that just stopped and a girl got out of the car and just ran and started screaming and crying. I was just really stunned by it. I was kind of standing there and I just thought, 'Nope, this is ridiculous. I have to help.' I don't know, I couldn't handle just biking away knowing there were all these people coming in. Basically I was like 'I know somebody who is in charge of stuff.' I went back and I found him.
"It's so much better than actually going home or neglecting the fact that all these people are living with such terror now. It's unbelievable to think that in just a matter of seconds their whole life is gone."
Fire officials held a community meeting Sunday night in Brewster to update residents on what they know so far. The Red Cross also notified local media that another shelter was set up at Brewster High School. For a list of current shelters and to inquire areas of need, contact the Red Cross at 509-990-0969.
"I must say in my 30 years of firefighting this is one of the most challenging fires I've ever encountered," Operation Section Chief Alan Lawson told the crowd Sunday night. "This fire is going to be long-term. I don't have to tell you that."
Command centers have been opened in Omak and Chelan Falls. In addition, a new fire information call center as been set up in Wenatchee.
The center is open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at 509-664-9353 or 509-664-9277 to answer Carlton Complex fire-related questions.
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