CHELAN, Wash. - The Carlton Complex blew up Thursday night, burning into the town of Pateros, reportedly leveling dozens of homes and forcing widespread evacuations.
In addition to the devastation in Pateros, the nearby town of Brewster is now under a Level 3 evacuation, meaning residents need to leave the area immediately.
The firefighting effort was hampered by gusty winds across Okanogan County which pushed the wildfire down into Pateros. A witness at the scene told local radio station KOZI that she saw "whirlwinds of fire" around the town before she evacuated. That radio station reported there was mass destruction including the burning down of churches and many homes burned to the ground.
However Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said that wasn't the case, that the downtown area of Pateros had actually fared pretty well but dozens of homes had burned in the fire. Deputies patrolling the area reported 40 homes lost above Alta Lake and along Highway 153 there were 10 to 15 homes lost as well. In all, approximately 80 to 90 homes in all were destroyed.
"There's our brand new Pateros sign and here's the flames coming down into town," Pateros resident Christina David said, showing the devastation on her iPhone, shot during the evacuation.
David and her family were among the many residents who watched as the fire roared down into town Thursday night, chewing up everything in its path and leaving a wide swath of devastation.
"I ran home and packed some belongings and left my kids down at my mom's at the heart of town and by the time I made it back down to town the fire had hit the base of the hill," she said.
David, whose home was still standing as of Friday morning, was among the nearly 70 evacuees at the Red Cross shelter at Chelan High School overnight where Red Cross volunteer Christina Eglin was overseeing the shelter.
"We're providing sheltering services and we have cots and blankets set up for those that need a place to stay overnight," Eglin said.
The shelter had been in Pateros. When the fire roared into town they were forced to evacuate to Chelan along with Pateros residents.
"We were initially set up at the Pateros school and we saw the flames coming over the hill and we decided to temporarily relocate," Eglin said.
Throughout the night donations of blankets, books and food among other things rolled in.
"Around here, Pateros, Brewster, whatever, it's all one big community, and we just love to help out," Mark Elliott said.
This community says they will get through this, hoping and praying the fire will be stopped before more damage is done.
"I never thought it would happen to me," David said. "I see all these disasters going on around us and I feel bad for everybody but I never thought it would be me. I never thought I would be in those shoes."
The Red Cross said they are evaluating all the supplies they have Friday morning to see what they need and what donations they need. The shelter at the Chelan High School will remain in place as long as it's needed.
In addition to the Red Cross shelter in Chelan, the Pateros Lakeshore Inn is offering shelter as well. It's located at 233 Lakeshore Drive and their number is (509) 923-9555. The Inn asks evacuees to bring their own blankets, cots and sleeping bags as they can only guarantee a roof and place to sleep.
Evacuees with livestock and large animals should take them to the rodeo grounds in Chelan, while authorities are still working on a plan for sheltering small domestic animals like cats and dogs.
Rogers said that while the fire appears to moving away from Brewster without causing much property damage so far, he intends to keep the evacuation order for the town in place.
Here is the current list of Red Cross shelters that are open across Central Washington in response to the wildfires in the region:
Chelan High School – 215 W. Webster, Chelan. Overnight population of 80 people.
Cornerstone Christian Fellowship Church - 328 N. Riverside, Omak. Overnight population of 35 people. As of 8:30am, 83 people are currently at the shelter.
The Grange – 344 W. 2nd St., Twisp. Overnight population of 7 people.
First Baptist Church – 429 Evans St., Leavenworth. Overnight population of 1 person.
The shelters are available for all area residents – meals, snacks and water are provided as well as any available updated information about the fires.
As of Friday morning, the Red Cross is not accepting any in-kind donations of items or goods and are asking people not bringing goods or food to the Red Cross to the chapter or any of the shelters.
They are asking if you want to help to make a donation to American Red Cross Disaster Relief by going to redcross.org/donate or call 1-800-REDCROSS. Contributions may also be sent to your local Red Cross chapter.
People from Okanogan County who are inquiring about the status of their property can call 509-422-7206. There is also a Carlton Complex Fire Info Line: 509-996-9970.