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Fire victims face ‘tight’ rental market

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PATEROS — It was already tough to find a place to rent in Okanogan County before wildfires burned down about 150 homes last week.

The vacancy rate was only 2 percent in Twisp, Winthrop and Pateros, said Lael Duncan, executive director of the Okanogan County Community Action Council. Now, with an estimated 1,000 people displaced, the situation is even worse.

Rentals are few and far between,” Duncan said. “Even for folks who are not low income, the rental market was really tight.”

Officials in Okanogan County are scrambling to find ways to help people who have lost their homes in the big wildfire Thursday and Friday.

Duncan said she is hesitant to start a program that would bring in mobile homes for people to live in.

Longterm, I don’t want to create a ghetto,” she said.

On Tuesday, officials from 18 local agencies gathered to come up with a plan. Key agencies included the Community Action Council, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and the Red Cross, said Megan Snow, a Red Cross spokeswoman.

Duncan said assessing the damage and coming up with a complete plan to help people is several days away.

Officials don’t yet have solid numbers on how many people need long-term housing. The three Red Cross shelters — in Chelan, Brewster and Winthrop — housed 24 people on Wednesday. That is down from more than 80 people who were in four to five shelters shortly after the wildfire went out of control Thursday night, Snow said.

fire officials say almost all of the 153 burned homes were primary homes and not vacation homes. In Alta Lake alone, about 44 homes were destroyed.

The need, everyone agrees, is likely to be substantial.

Reach Dee Riggs at 509-664-7147 or .