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Afternoon storms raise havoc on old fires, start new ones

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Noon Sunday update:

Highway 20 and Highway 153 have reopened to traffic. The American Red Cross has opened shelters at the Methow Community Center in Twisp and the Mazama Community Church near Mazama.

WINTHROP — Lightning strikes, high winds and isloated heavy showers of rain added to the calamity of new and old fires in the Methow Valley Saturday.

A new wildfire between Twisp and Winthrop on Friday afternoon destroyed more than a dozen structures, knocked out power to hundreds of homes, and elicited fears that the remaining unburned areas of the Methow Valley could burn.

Dozens of residents evacuated in the Twin Lakes and Elbow Coulee area and along Highway 20 between Twisp and Winthrop. The new fire is being called the Rising Eagle Road Fire.

Sun Mountain Lodge and cabins at Patterson Lake were among those evacuated Friday, largely because there’s only one way in and out of the world-class resort, said Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers.

State firefighters working the Carlton Complex Fire nearby were called in to help Okanogan County firefighters and knock back the fire Friday evening and reduce the threat to populated areas between Twisp and Winthrop. Homes along several roads south of Winthrop were still at the highest level evacuation level, while Sun Mountain Resort was reduced to a be ready to evacuate level.

Rogers said air tankers and helicopters helped corral the fast-moving fire Friday, which spread some four miles within a couple of hours.

The air support was fantastic,” he said.

A violent lightning storm blew through the same area Saturday afternoon, starting new fires, fanning old fires back to life, downing trees and adding to the chaos and danger that has threatened the valley for weeks. Several roads were blocked by downed trees. Others roads became impassable because of fire and heavy smoke. Phones and electricity were out.

People are backed up everywhere. We’re trying to clear roadways,” said Rogers, contacted by cell phone at about 3 p.m. Saturday. “It’s just one thing after another.”

The storm passed in about 30 minutes, but wind was still pushing a new fire along Thompson Ridge, between Sun Mountain Lodge and Twisp River Road. Rogers said deputies were doing their best to clear roads and notify residents of the fire, but basically the whole valley should be on alert and those who see flames coming towards their homes should leave immediately.

It’s been quite an exciting afternoon,” said Andy Lyon, spokesman at the Carlton Complex Fire incident command center at Liberty Bell High School. The school itself was under threat from the Rising Eagle Road Fire Friday. Heavy rain that came with Saturday’s storm helped cool that fire even as lightning started others, he said. The fire burned at least two homes and a barn and maybe other structures, said Lyon.

The Methow Valley News reported that fire officials at a public meeting in Winthrop Saturday said 13 structures had burned in Friday’s fire, but it wasn’t clear how many of those were homes.

Power surges at the command center Saturday, perhaps caused by the lightning also started an electrical fire in the school.

Even we had to evacuate for awhile,” Lyon said. Okanogan Fire District 6 volunteers put the fire out and the command center was back working — but under generator power — an hour later.

Highway 20 closed to traffic between Twisp and Winthrop Friday evening, but reopened early Saturday morning. By 3 p.m. Saturday, Highway 20 and Highway 153 were both closed again. The road reopened later that night.

Here’s a round-up of other NCW fires:

Carlton Complex Fire: The northern flank of the fire was very active and flames jumped across Pearrygin Creek. Pearrygin State Park was evacuated and closed. Residents around Pearrygin Lake and Chewuch Road were put on Level 2 evacuation notice, meaning be ready to leave quickly.

The huge 251,698-acre fire is about 71 percent contained. Firefighters continue to burn out unburned pockets of fuel in the complex’s east and south zones. More than 3,000 firefighters continue to work the fire.

Chiwaukum Complex: Highway 2 between Leavenworth and Coles Corner is now open in both directions without a pilot car. The fire is now estimated at 12,737 acres and is still growing in heavy pine and fir forest on its west and south ends. The fire grew about 700 acres Friday. More than 1,000 firefighters are on the fire, which is 29 percent contained.

We got areas of wind, high wind, lightning, heavy rain and no rain,” said fire spokesman Nick Mickel of afternoon storms Friday and Saturday. The Friday afternoon storm started four new fires in the Alpine Lakes area and near Lake Wenatchee. Ground crews were sent to the two Lake Wenatchee fires. Rappelers and smokejumpers were flown in to the two Alpine Lakes fires, he said.

The Saturday storm may have also started new fires near Lake Wenatchee and Plain. Crews were still investigating reports Saturday evening, Mickel said.

Duncan Fire: The fire grew about 60 acres Saturday and is now burning on 2,886 acres of heavy forest near the Cottonwood guard station at the head of the Entiat River Valley.

Reach Rick Steigmeyer at 509-664-7151 or . Read his blog Winemaker's Journal or follow him on Twitter at @steigmeyerww.

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