Rain forecast for fire zones, so next threat is flash floods
The weather service warns of possible flash floods as 2,110 firefighters continue to battle the largest wildfire in Washington history, the Carlton complex fire in Okanogan County.
Seattle Times staff reporters
About 7,000 consumers remain without power from the Carlton Complex wildfire, according to the Okanogan Public Utilities District.
Crews likely won’t be able to restore power to more homes Wednesday, said Dan Boettger, director of regulatory and environmental affairs for the district. But Boettger added that the district hopes to get power restored to some of the Methow Valley and town of Pateros by the weekend.
Meanwhile, the region came under a new a flash flood warning that was scheduled to remain in effect through 4 p.m. Wednesday. Residents near Highway 20 and in the Methow and Okanogan valleys were advised to “take immediate precautions to protect life and property,” according to a National Weather Service alert issued shortly before 1 p.m. Wednesday.
No one who’s seen the destruction wrought by March’s Highway 530 mudslide in Snohomish County can disagree with the chilling words in a prior “flash flood watch” the weather service issued:
“Rushing water and debris, including trees and rocks, can damage or destroy culverts, bridges, roads and buildings.”
The flood watch comes as 2,110 firefighters continue to battle the largest wildfire in Washington history, the Carlton complex fire in Okanogan County.
That fire grew to more than 250,000 acres, about 391 square miles, Tuesday and accounted for more than three-quarters of the acreage burned by seven major Washington fires. Just after 5 p.m. Tuesday it was reported 16 percent contained.
Obama signed an emergency declaration Wednesday authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate disaster relief and help state and local agencies with equipment and resources.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday met with President Obama — in Seattle for a fundraiser — and “gave him a briefing about how enormous this threat is to the state.”
“It’s still a growing and dangerous beast, and we have a long, long ways to go in the fire season — months — before we’re out of the woods,” Inslee said.
Inslee said a federal emergency declaration would allow assistance to help restore power to burned-out areas.
The weather service’s flood watch was issued as forecasts called for widespread thunderstorms Wednesday spreading across Central Washington.
The storms are expected to produce a band of moderate to heavy rainfall over the east slopes of the Northern Cascades.
It takes as little as 10 minutes, the weather service advisory noted, for heavy rain to trigger a flash flood on a slope that has become unstable because fire burned away its vegetation.
Travelers in the area are urged to use caution.
“Water can be as bad as fire if you’re in the wrong place,” Inslee said.
The watch is in effect through Wednesday evening. In addition to potential flooding, the anticipated thunderstorms carry the possibility of lightning-caused fires.
Tuesday morning, state transportation workers reopened Highway 20 east of Twisp, which had been closed by fire since Thursday night.
Still unknown is how long it will take to restore power to Okanogan County communities, particularly those in the Methow Valley.
Don Peterson, spokesman for the multiagency team fighting the Carlton complex fire, said the fire destroyed 80 utility poles on Highway 20 toward Loup Loup Pass.
A flash-flood watch means conditions may develop that lead to flash flooding or debris flow, the weather service said.
“Flash flooding and debris flow paths are unpredictable and can affect locations that are miles away from a burned area,” the weather service warned.
Seattle Times reporter Zahra Farah contributed to this report.Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or firstname.lastname@example.org