Huge forest fire scorches hundreds of homes in rural Washington state

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:35am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 July, 2014, 6:35am

A massive forest fire that has destroyed at least 100 homes forced the residents of a second town in the US northwest to leave, and prompted a partial evacuation of a third community in a scenic valley, a sheriff said.

Fire swept through the town of Pateros in Washington state on Thursday, leaving its 650 residents to return to large areas of smouldering rubble and forcing the people of Malott, population 500, to evacuate.

On Friday Frank Rogers, sheriff of Okanogan County, said people living in outlying areas of the town of Brewster were also told to leave because "the fire is just kind of … blowing down toward Brewster".

While he said no injuries had been reported, he knew the damage toll had grown. However, he didn't have an updated number.

"We know we've lost more homes," he said.

The hospital in Brewster, which has a population of 2,400, was evacuated late on Thursday. Smoke in the town on Friday was so thick it nearly obscured the Columbia River from adjacent highways. The smoke extended all the way to Spokane, 24km to the east.

Officials said the fire known as the Carlton Complex had blackened more than 670 square kilometres and continues to grow. That size estimate was up dramatically from the prior estimate of 72 square kilometres.

Friday's dawn revealed dramatic devastation in Pateros, including solitary brick chimneys and burned-out cars.

Most residents evacuated in advance of the flames, and some returned Friday to see what, if anything, was left of their houses.

The surface of US Highway 97 stopped the advance of some of the flames, protecting parts of the town.

Firefighters poured water over the remnants of homes, raising clouds of smoke, steam and dust. Two big water towers perched just above the town were singed black. Ash fell like snowflakes.

The fire consumed utility poles from two major power lines, knocking out power to Pateros as well as the towns of Winthrop and Twisp to the north.

Sheriff Rogers said earlier his team counted 30 houses and mobile homes destroyed in Pateros, another 40 in a community just outside the town at Alta Lake, and about 25 homes destroyed elsewhere in the county of about 40,000 people.



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