Central Washington Fires Shut Down Power As Uncertainty Grows

Jul 21, 2014

The most destructive wildfire currently burning in the Northwest has left thousands of people without air conditioning and refrigeration. It’s closed most gas stations and shut down ATMs in north-central Washington. Okanogan County currently estimates 150 to 200 homes burned to the ground. The County Utility District says its electrical system is almost a complete loss. Meanwhile, in Brewster last night, incident commanders of the region’s biggest and most destructive wildfire briefed residents Sunday night. Correspondent Courtney Flatt spoke with residents who are coping without power, and reports from that tense Brewster meeting.

Community members file in Sunday night to a meeting in Brewster, Washington.
Credit Courtney Flatt / Northwest News Network

Cars and trucks pulled into Bart Bradshaw’s gasoline station – just on the edge of Winthrop, Washington.

Bradshaw: “It’s usually not stacked up like this. It’s usually just a nice little gas station, but cars are really backing up.”

It’s the only gas station in the resort town that’s open thanks to a generator Bradshaw bought eight years ago just in case of an emergency like this.

The fire is burning about two miles from his home outside of town, but Bradshaw says he feels the need to be at the gas station, keeping it open to help fire crews and homeowners.

Bradshaw: “When the power goes out, which it does every once in a while, gas and propane are pretty essential, especially if people need to leave the valley.”

Okanogan County Public Utility District officials say it could still be days or even weeks for people to get power back in the Methow Valley.

Dan Boettger is in the PUD’s management. He says 3,700 of his customer’s are without power.

Boettger attended a community meeting in the Columbia River town of Brewster to answer questions about when people will get their power back. He says the so-called Carlton Complex wildfire has destroyed a lot of the area’s electrical infrastructure.

Boettger: “There’s a good percentage that just doesn’t exist anymore.”

Boettger says Sunday was the first day crews were able to start replacing burnt power poles. He says crews from the Bonneville Power Administration have have also arrived to fix transmission lines in the area.

About 100 people ventured out into the smoke to meet at the high school the at Columbia River town of Brewster, Washington. The so-called Carlton Complex wildfire burned right to the edge of this small orchard town and claimed 35 homes in the neighboring town Pateros.

Tensions rose toward the end of the meeting when several residents said they did not receive timely evacuation notices late last week.

Homeowner Brenda Riggan says she only had moments to evacuate her house. She says her family barely escaped with their lives.

Riggan: “We were not notified of the fire. We had no idea. And within a matter of minutes, it was upon us.”

The problem, says the Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers: The fire was just too big, and there weren’t enough officers on duty to keep up with the rapidly spreading blaze.

Riggan says she thinks this meeting was a good first step to answering the community’s questions.

Copyright 2014 Northwest News Network