By K.C. Mehaffey
World staff writer
OKANOGAN — A wind-driven wildfire burned about 2,000 acres and threatened 10 homes Monday as it jumped Highway 20 and raced from the outskirts of Okanogan toward Malott.
Firefighters from seven fire districts responded, and sheriff’s deputies warned some 50 residents of the oncoming fire. At least two homes on Cook Road were evacuated until the fire passed.
About 6,100 homes and businesses lost power in the Methow Valley, Okanogan and Malott areas when the fire burned transmission lines at about 2:30 p.m., said Okanogan County PUD director of engineering and operations Tim Devries. He said some 1,000 customers were restored by 5 p.m. through another line, and the Methow Valley regained its power by 11:30 p.m. Some 200 homes in the Pleasant Valley area of Okanogan should have power back by about noon today, he said.
Reported at 12:51 p.m., the fire started on the hills across from across Highway 20 from Smallwoods Fruit Stand near Okanogan and raced up the hill toward the Okanogan County landfill where it took out an outbuilding of hay.
“Once it hit the plateau above Highway 20 and got on that flat with the wind at its back, it pretty much went at windspeed or better,” said Okanogan Fire Chief Gordon Hennigs. Winds were steady at 16 mph, with gusts between 28 and 40 mph, he said.
One outbuilding and a hay swather were destroyed.
Silvia Gonzalez, living at a Johnny Appleseed orchard camp, said she was packing up a few things to be ready, in case the green orchard beside her didn’t contain the blaze.
“It’s scary,” she said, “But we’re lucky. I don’t know who’s living in the cabins on the other side.”
Deputy Tait Everett said he was driving up Cook Road to warn two residents of the oncoming fire when things got a little tense.
“It was getting darker and darker and then I see this big old wall of flames, about 30 feet from my door,” he said.
When he arrived, the residents were already packed up to leave.
Portions of several roads were closed, including Highway 20 and Old Highway 97, but both reopened Monday evening.
By 7 p.m., winds subsided and firefighters had the fire about 30 percent contained, pinching off its advance between two orchards about a mile from Malott.
“We’re looking really good this morning,” Hennigs said.
Today, blackened sagebrush leads up to the edge of yards and driveways of the threatened homes along Highway 20 and Old Highway 97. “There was some pretty good firefighting going on at some of those places,” Hennigs said.
Smoke from the blaze could be seen from the Methow Valley and above Lake Chelan. RiverCom dispatchers also said it was responsible for the blanket of haze over the Wenatchee Valley Monday afternoon.
“It was organized chaos,” said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers. “I give everybody credit. The fire guys didn’t let any houses burn.” He said the dozens of firefighters were helped by two helicopters, a plane, two bulldozers and public works water trucks that sprayed along roadsides to slow its advance.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, Rogers said, but initial reports indicate a large mower may have ignited it.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512