AFTER THE FIRE: KHQ returns to Okanogan County - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

AFTER THE FIRE: KHQ returns to Okanogan County

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The most iconic area of the Carlton Complex Fire has been cleared. Little rubble remains after 6 weeks The most iconic area of the Carlton Complex Fire has been cleared. Little rubble remains after 6 weeks
PATEROS, Wash. -

It's been more than a month since the Carlton Complex fire raged out of control and burned through the towns of Pateros and Brewster and the residents in the area are picking up the pieces, and preparing for the long haul.

The fire started on July 14th from a lightning strike. Four separate fires merged into one, and burned through Okanogan County at a rapid rate. On July 17th, the fire raced towards the towns of Pateros and Brewster, eventually burning through homes in Pateros. It also destroyed dozens of homes in places like Alta Lake, the Methow Valley, and along the Chiliwist.

More than a month later, firefighters have a perimeter set up around 100% of the fire, however during its peak, the fire destroyed upwards of 300 homes and in the end burned more than 256,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in Washington's history.

One of the major issues the victims and Okanogan County as a whole are dealing with today is a lack of short- and long-term affordable housing for the displaced. Okanogan County Emergency Management says the county only had about a 1 percent vacancy rate before the first destroyed hundreds of homes. Now residents have been forced out of their homes. Some of sleeping in tents on their lawn, others in a surviving outbuilding. Many have relocated to other areas or are staying with friends or family. Either way, a major concern is that property values will drop if residents simply relocate rather than rebuild. Organizations from around the county are gathering on a daily basis to organize thorough recovery plans.

Another major issue came two weeks ago, when FEMA denied individual aid to victims who lost their homes in the fire.

“My fear is that people could potentially die from the cold weather,” said Lael Duncan, with Okanogan Community Action Counsel.

Duncan says if residents don't begin building soon, they won't be able to complete a new home before the weather turns.

Meanwhile residents continue to pour into the Pateros distribution center, which received hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations.

“We're just getting through it one day at a time,” Dennis Hoots told me. He's worked the Pateros distribution center almost everyday since the fire, and says the need in this county is still great.

“This last week we had two new people, first time asking for help,” Hoots said.

For Sheriff Frank Rodgers, life has also drastically changed. Like so many in the area, he has many friends and family that lost homes to the Carlton Complex fire. And he and his staff have worked tirelessly to keep these residents safe.

“My whole career, never seen anything like this,” Sheriff Rodgers told KHQ. “There was nothing you could do to stop this. No one is getting sleep like they used to. This isn't going to end anytime soon, that's the problem.”

Of course, last week's mudslide damaged or destroyed another dozen Okanogan County homes. Sheriff Rodgers cautioned that the damage might not be done.

“This is going to be bad this spring,” Sheriff Rodgers said. “All the snow, the runoff and the melt. That's going to be a real issue.”

FEMA will provide public funding to Okanogan County. They will begin assessing the damages on September 4th. Also, the state plans to appeal FEMA's decision to deny individual aid on behalf of the state.

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It's been more than a month since the Carlton Complex fire raged out of control and burned through the towns of Pateros and Brewster and the residents in the area are picking up the pieces, and preparing for the long haul. 

The fire started on July 14th from a lightning strike. Four separate fires merged into one, and burned through Okanogan County at a rapid rate. On July 17th, the fire raced towards the towns of Pateros and Brewster, eventually burning through homes in Pateros. 

More than a month later, firefighters have a perimeter set up around 100% of the fire, however during its peak, the fire destroyed 300 homes and in the end burned more than 256,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in Washington's history. 

KHQ was live on the fire lines as it began to grow out of control in July. Our crews spent days in Okanogan County, tracking the fire and the progress to contain it all the way from Winthrop to Pateros, and Brewster to Omak. The recovery will be slow, but steady. The people of Okanogan County are resilient and have welcomed us with open arms as we talked with them just hours after they lost their homes, many while their homes were still smoldering. 

The goal was not to exploit or capitalize on a tragedy, but to allow the rest of the state, region and ultimately country a chance to see the devastation the fire left behind. We heard countless stories of tragedy, heroism, and perseverance. Our goal is to now present the recovery aspect as the people of Okanogan County continue to fight on. 

This week KHQ returned to Okanogan County, and much like the week we were there during the peak of the fire, we were welcomed into the communities with open arms as people continued to pick up, repair, and rebuild their lives. Sheriff Frank Rogers took us on a ride along of the area to show the amount of devastation left behind. Volunteers at shelters and distribution centers talked about the appreciation the communities have for everyone that has donated, including the residents of the Inland Northwest who donated during our KHQ Cares, Inland Northwest Shares drive we held for the victims. 

As the weeks turn into months, our goal is to stand with the people of Okanogan County, tell their stories of tragedy and more importantly, triumph. There is a long road of recovery still to walk, but we know the people of Okanogan County are up for the challenge, and hope to continue to stand by their side as they make the journey. 

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