Wildfire continues to burn in Okanogan County
OKANOGAN, Wash. -- A weekend fire destroyed at least two homes and perhaps a dozen other buildings, according to officials with the Department of Natural Resources.
Cooler temperatures and lighter winds kept the fire from growing rapidly on Saturday, but authorities cautioned that conditions could change. On Sunday fire officials estimated the fire burned around 7,800 acres southwest of Okanogan along Highway 20.
Authorities say they expect to have fire fighters on-scene for at least a week. Crews are still working to determine how many barns and sheds known as "out buildings" were destroyed. A schoolhouse built in the late 1800's is also among the structures burned.
People living near Pleasant Valley Road say strong winds Friday afternoon prompted the fire to spread quickly. "The wind was extremely strong," said Bryan Freel, who was at work when the fire started. "When I got here (home), there were flames up north a mile." Fire destroyed a small building on his property and smoke damaged the inside of his home, but the house he built is still standing.
Authorities ordered a Level 3 evacuation to approximately 50 homes on Friday. Level 3 is the highest order and urges homeowners to leave immediately, according to a DNR spokesman. That evacuation order was lifted Saturday afternoon prompting the Red Cross to close an emergency shelter it opened at Okanogan Middle School.
Authorities cautioned residents they should still consider staying out of their homes and could be ordered to leave if conditions changed Two tanker planes and at least one plane could be seen in the sky around the fire scene. Highway 20 remains closed between B & O road in Okanogan and the town of Twisp, about 30 miles away.
Fire burned along the edge of the highway and destroyed the root system of several trees forcing them to fall along the road. Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers expects Highway 20 to remain closed all weekend. "We'll see what happens Monday," he said.
The cause of the fire is unknown. An investigator is trying to determine how and where the fire started.
-KHQ Local News reporter Anthony Gomes contributed to this article.