Cooler temps help crews battle largest wildfire in recent memory
OKANOGAN COUNTY — Cooler temperatures and the possibility of rain east of the Cascades brought hope to fire crews battling the immense Carlton Complex Wildfires.
By Monday, the group of fires had grown to nearly 300,000 acres, killed one person and burned more than 150 homes and structures.
The fire was around 2 percent contained, with about 1,400 firefighters fighting the blaze over the weekend, officials said.
The fire is one largest wildfires in the state in recent memory, vastly surpassing the Tripod Complex Fire that burned more than 175,000 acres in 2006 in Okanogon.
Until late this weekend, the weather had remained hot and windy, continuing to grow the blaze. Cooler weather rolled through the area late Saturday, and rain was expected as early as Tuesday.
“The fire is slowing down,” Okanogan Cunty Sheriff Frank Rogers said Saturday. “It’s still really active, but slowing down.”
NEW PHOTOS: More than 40 Alta Lake homes destroyed by Carlton Complex Fire
The fire started on July 14 after a lighting weather system moved through the Methow Valley. Firefighters working Sunday were able to get a bit of a jump on containment lines, officials said. With quiet winds expected Monday, crews planned to to further work lines near Twisp.
If weather conditions are favorable, fire crews plan to conduct a burn out operation to construct six miles of fireline to extend the containment lines around the north end of the fire.
Officials warned that over the next few days, residents near the Pearrygin Lake area may be seeing increased smoke and fire activity. Damaged utilities also hampered crews, as dozens of utility poles were burned down, hindering communication.
Highway 20 between Twisp and Okanogan has been reopened to the public, but officials cautioned that heavy traffic was possible.
Dozens of homes in the farming town of Pateros were burned Thursday night. Only one fatality in the fire has been reported, when 67-year-old Robert Koczewski suffered a heart attack while protecting his Gold Creek Ranch home from the flames.
A command post has been set up in the area with Okanogan, Douglas, Chelan, and Grant County Emergency Management, officials said. Additional state mobilization resources have arrived for structure protection. The Omak Fellowship Church, the Wintrop Red Barn and Chelan High School are all taking in evacuations.
Q13FOX News will continue to update this story throughout the day