Washington’s Carlton Complex Fire Largest In State History, 16 Percent Contained

Washington state’s Carlton Complex fire grew on Monday to the largest wildfire in state history at more than 243,000 acres and was 16 percent contained as of Tuesday morning. The previous record was held by the Yacolt Burn, which consumed 238,920 acres in southwestern Washington in 1902. That fire killed 38 people.

An estimated 200 homes have been destroyed and the fire is being blamed for the death of an elderly man who had a heart attack while defending his property against the raging flames. King-5 News reports that firefighters were hampered by the loss of electricity in the area where the fires destroyed power lines and poles, hurting communications.

There are more than 1,600 firefighters battling the flames in the scenic Methow Valley with the assistance of more than 100 fire engines, helicopters dropping water, and planes spreading flame retardant. Many towns in the valley, including Pateros, Brewster, Twisp, and Winthrop, remain without power and have limited landline and cellphone service.

Mark Clemens, a spokesman at the state Emergency Operations Center, added that more than 100 Washington National Guard soldiers are supporting state Department of National Resources firefighters. National Guard helicopters have dropped more than 500,000 gallons of water on the fires, which were started by lightning strikes on July 14.

The Los Angeles Times notes that the fire was 2 percent contained yesterday when residents near the Okanogan County town of Carlton were ordered to evacuate. A stretch of State Highway 20 was also closed as a precaution.

At a disaster update meeting Monday evening, Pateros Mayor Libby Harrison, who lost her home in the Carlton Complex fire, welcomed the community and expressed sympathy for fellow residents who also lost their homes. She added, “I just want you to know that we as a community are going to pull together and make this town even better.”

Pateros was hit hardest by the massive wildfire and the majority of homes lost were in or around the small town. Mail deliver returned to the small city for the first time in three days, but the news at the meeting was still grim. Utility crews are working double shifts to restore power to the area, but no one has an estimate for when the lights will come back on. There should be information in the coming days about whether the water is safe to drink.

Some of the danger from the Carlton Complex fire has diminished, according to Jeff Sevigney, fire information officer for the task force working to control the massive blaze. He explained that on Sunday “we were able to start doing some actual containment work such as building fire lines.”

Rogers added that the number of destroyed houses is close to 200 and an additional 1,000 are threatened. He went on to say, “And here is the sad thing. It is not even fire season.” Rain on Tuesday and Wednesday could help fire crews further control the massive wildfire.

The Carlton Complex fire is one of about 20 major wildfires burning in the Northwest.

[Image by The Washington National Guard]