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Two men arrested after back burns go out of control

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TWISP — Two NCW residents were arrested on suspicion of arson this weekend, accused of setting back burns that got out of control, with one of them almost trapping a fire crew in a canyon.

Somebody is going to get killed doing this,” said Frank Rogers, Okanogan County sheriff. “Let the professionals deal with the fire. Lighting a backfire is such a gamble — you have to do it under the right conditions.”

And that wasn’t the case with either of the back burns, which were made by men trying to save property as huge fires burned in Okanogan County and northern Chelan County, Rogers said. Back burns are secondary fires lit on purpose to burn fuels in the path of an oncoming fire.

Arrested on suspicion of arson were Larry E. Smith, 63; and Radley J. Hastings, 62, of Quiet Valley Road near Antoine Creek, just north of Chelan. Their arrests were for separate back burns.

Smith lit a fire near Benson Creek in rural Twisp on Friday, Rogers said.

Wind whipped the fire out of control and it burned property. Rogers said he did not know what was damaged.

Smith had been trying to help neighbors protect their house from fire. Hastings lit a back burn late morning on Sunday, trying to keep fire from his house, Rogers said. “It went the wrong way, and almost ended up trapping a group of firefighters in a canyon,” the sheriff said. “They had to pull the whole crew out but they all got out OK.”

Rogers said he thinks Hastings’ house survived the fire.

Reach Dee Riggs at 509-664-7147 or .