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NCW fires nation’s top priority

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A DC-10 air tanker pulls up after dropping fire retardant over a wildfire Saturday near Carlton.

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WENATCHEE — The Carlton Complex and Chiwaukum Creek fires are now the nation’s highest priorities, garnering the most leverage for limited firefighting resources.

Saturday evening, three national fire-management teams were breaking the massive Carlton Complex into three zones, with the highest-level Type 1 team set to take over the fire’s actively burning southwest flank, which neared the Okanogan/Chelan County border at Antoine Creek.

Crews from across the country have arrived and could work on either complex, based on need, officials said.

This is such a huge fire. There’s so much loss of property. It’s overwhelming,” Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said Saturday evening. “It’s a massive fire with a lot of destruction.”

The Carlton Complex is listed as the country’s top priority on the National Interagency Coordination Center website. The Chiwaukum Creek Fire, near Leavenworth, and the Mills Canyon Fire near Entiat, are the second and third highest priorities.

Rankings are based, in part, on the number of homes placed on evacuation notice, a fire official in Winthrop said.

The Carlton Complex fire has burned at Alta Lake, about 4 miles south of Pateros, fire spokeswoman Victoria Wilkens said. The golf course there has been severely damaged.

At 5 p.m. 129 homes in the Antoine Creek area, about 10 miles northeast of Chelan, were given Level 3 (get out now) evacuation notices, as firefighters battled tinder-dry conditions and erratic winds.

That flank of the fire was staffed by some 150 fire personnel, including two bulldozers and helicopters, officials reported.

The fire began July 14 with a lightning strike and continues to expand on all sides. At last measurement it had covered 215,000 acres of mostly grass and brush. The four fires that formed its “complex” had merged into one large area.

At least 100 homes have been destroyed by the fire, most during a wind-driven race through the city of Pateros and the community of Chiliwist Thursday night.

Two Type 2 fire-management teams are forming to manage the Winthrop flank of the fire in northwest Okanogan County, and the Omak flank at the county’s center.

Power has been out to Methow Valley communities since Thursday, when the fire damaged a 4-mile stretch of powerline. Repair crews are not expected to have access to the damage for at least three more days, Wilkens said.

Telephone and cell phone service is improving but sporadic. Highway 20 between Twisp and Okanogan remains closed. Highway 153 between Pateros and Twisp is closed intermittently.

Chiwaukum Creek Fire: Some 535 personnel are assigned to this fire burning on at least 10,120 steep-and-forested acres in Tumwater Canyon, about 6 miles north of Leavenworth. It’s active on its southern and northern flanks. Crews have slowed its northern progress with retardant and water drops, fire spokesman Nick Mickel said Saturday.

Crews held the fire west of Highway 2. No new evacuations were issued or new road openings or closings, he said.

We are keeping on top of it, but it’s a struggle,” he said.

No structures have been reported lost, nor injuries nor fatalities, he said.

Mills Canyon Fire: Holding at 22,571 acres near Entiat, the fire is 75-percent contained, with more expected Saturday night. Some 400 fire personnel are assigned.

Saddle Mountain Fire: Has burned at least 38,000 acres since it was reported late Friday south of I-90 at Vantage. Pushed by strong winds, the fire spread to the southeast toward Huntzinger Road and Auvil Fruit Company orchards, the news release said, igniting part of an old, unused railroad bridge that crosses the Columbia River.

Initially, 69 people and a fire truck were stranded in the Auvil Fruit area, when the fire cut off access on Huntzinger Road, a Kittitas County news release said.

Of those 69 people, 40 “self evacuated” into Grant County across Priest Rapids Dam. Three structures in the Getty’s Cove area burned.

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