Firestorm forces mass exodus from Central Washington towns

"It really looked like the cauldron of hell ... you can see fire everywhere you look"

Firestorm forces mass exodus from Central Washington towns

CHELAN, Wash. - Multiple wildfires across Central Washington have left unbelievable destruction in their wake, charring hundreds of thousands of acres and forcing the evacuation of several communities.

The Washington Firestorm has two major fronts: The Chiwaukum Creek Fire near Leavenworth and the Carlton Complex fire that stretches from Twisp to Pateros. The Carlton Complex has destroyed homes so far in Twist, Pateros, Alta Lake and Friday evening fire crews were standing their ground to prevent it from getting into Brewster.


On Thursday, high winds pushed the lightning-caused Carlton Complex fire over a ridge and into Pateros. Within hours, the community was evacuating, leaving behind homes, many of which were gutted by fire.

One of those homes belonged to David Brownlee, who watched Thursday night as the advancing fire swept through his neighborhood and leveled his home.

"When you've got fire it does a lot of funny things. it switched and came this way and it just wiped out the houses instantly," Brownlee said.

The fire wiped out dozens of homes in the area, including the mayor's home and then the homes of her relatives.

"My daughter lived here, who is the mayor of Pateros. I lived in the house behind her, my brother lived up at Alta Lake, they're all gone," Carol Hamshaw said.

Firefighters saved what they could from the flames, but often had to sacrifice outbuildings to focus on the property owner's homes. In one neighborhood, the Pateros Community Church is the only building that didn't burn within a two block radius.

"You never know it could have been divine intervention," Brownlee said.

Even the people who were lucky enough not to lose their homes still face terrific challenges as the wide ranging fire downed miles of power lines, leaving the town of 600 people without electricity and stores that could residents food and other supplies are closed.

"All the power and water is off and we heard it's probably going to be a month before we can get some electricity back because all the power lines are down," Pateros resident Shelly Roalson said.

On Friday the winds continued to push the flames down the hillsides and into Pateros.

Alta Lake

The fire, burning on both sides of the Methow River, swept down into the popular camping area of Alta Lake State Park, consuming house after house.

With dawn Friday morning came the realization the park is gone, consumed by the fire.

"I've talked with one friend and they have lived here for twenty some years and they are just devastated. They had this beautiful old house that they had just turned into a magical place and in a matter of hours it's gone," Sue Depiest said.

It could take months, possibly even years, for the Alta Lake State Park to return to what it was before the Carlton Complex.


35 miles up the road from Pateros the flames roared into the town and catching residents off guard. Flames have surrounded the community all week but Thursday night came roaring right up to the front porch steps and in many homes burned straight through the front door.

Approximately 15 to 20 homes have been destroyed.

"It really looked like the cauldron of hell ... you can see fire everywhere you look," one resident said.

Residents of Twisp describe the departure from town as a mass exodus, with people desperately trying to get out of town before the fire hit. That exit created road blocks and traffic jams and some people stayed as long as they could before it was simply too late.

The Red Cross opened a shelter in Twisp along with shelters in Omak and Chelan.

Twisp is by no means out of the woods, as people sat in long lines at the gas stations in town, waiting to fill their vehicles as they evacuated.


On Friday firefighters were defending the town of Brewster, which has fire lines to the north.

People on the outskirts are at a Level 3 evacuation – evacuate as soon as possible -- while the town itself is at a Level 1, which means they need to be on alert and be prepared to leave.


The Chiwaukum Creek fire continues to burn as a light dusting of ash falls over the town of Leavenworth. While the welcome sign in the town is out, Mother Nature has a different plan.

Over the town a thick cloud of dark smoke hangs in the air. Hundreds of people are under evacuation orders and those on standby are doing what they can to protect their houses.

On Friday night 300 firefighters are engaged in the ground fight supported by helicopters overhead.

"It is timber dry. You walk in the yard and the grass crackles, you know, it is just so extremely dry. Our hearts go out to the firefighters because they're protecting us," pub owner T.R. Revere said.

A shelter remains open at all hours in the Leavenworth area for those who need it.