Progress on fire lines, but Methow tourism taking hit
Firefighters are making headway on Central Washington wildfires, with the Carlton complex fire mostly contained. But summer tourism in the scenic Methow Valley is feeling a big impact.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Weeks of wildfires. Tree-toppling wild winds this past weekend. Evacuations and power outages.
At what’s normally the height of the summer tourist season, the Methow Valley in North Central Washington has been dealing with forces of nature that have severely impacted local life — and tourism.
Sun Mountain Lodge near Winthrop, Okanogan County, which features hiking and mountain-biking trails right outside its doors, evacuated guests — many of whom left all their belongings behind — on Friday because of the nearby Rising Eagle Road fire, which had broken out that day.
The lodge plans to reopen at noon Tuesday, said general manager Brian Charlton, after the evacuation status was officially downgraded Monday. The 112-room lodge’s buildings and extensive trails were not affected by the nearby fire. But Sun Mountain Lodge, like many Methow Valley businesses, has had to cope with power outages and no water (since it’s pumped). In addition to this past weekend’s closure, the lodge was closed for eight days in July due to effects of the massive Carlton complex fire.
Firefighters in the lower Methow Valley continue to battle that blaze, which scorched 253,377 acres (396 square miles) and destroyed about 300 homes in mid-July. The largest fire in state history, it was about 82 percent contained as of Monday.
Still, life goes on for the small town of Winthrop and businesses in the upper Methow Valley, and all major roads are open, including the scenic North Cascades Highway (Highway 20), the area’s main transportation artery from Western Washington.
Over the weekend, people were out hiking in the clear air of the Cutthroat Lake Trail above the valley on the eastern slope of the North Cascades. And while some tourists are canceling and staying away, Sun Mountain manager Charlton said, “Guests are waiting to return, hoping to return.”
On Monday crews were restoring power after the weekend’s tree-toppling windstorm (with gusts up to 80 mph) and the Rising Eagle Road fire cut power to some areas. However, Monday afternoon the upper Methow Valley was without 911 service, landline phones and Internet service because of fiber-optic -line issues.
On a positive note, firefighters expected to fully contain the Rising Eagle Road portion of the Carlton complex fire Monday evening, said Anne Jeffrey, spokeswoman for the team battling the fire.
The road, between Twisp and Winthrop, is still under Level 2 evacuation, meaning residents should be ready to leave if the fire moves in their direction.
The Carlton complex fire started burning in mid-July. Currently, 1,748 emergency responders are battling the blaze, 57 fewer than Sunday, said Jeffrey.
“We’re more in a mop-up and secure-the-line operation, rather than actually suppressing the fire,” she said. “We have a good line around most of the fire.”
About 2½ hours south, a wildfire burning near Ellensburg has destroyed six homes and 10 other structures, said Jill Beedle, spokeswoman for the Kittitas County Emergency Operations Center.
A lightning strike ignited the fire Saturday, and the flames expanded to almost 2,000 acres (3 square miles) by Sunday night, though the area is mostly woods and other forestland. Emergency workers announced mandatory evacuations during weekend for foothills north and east of the blaze, called the Snag Canyon fire.
The fire was 10 percent contained as of Monday evening — up from zero percent Sunday, said Cory Wall, spokesman for Washington Interagency Incident Management Team 1.
“Any containment value that increases is always good news,” said Wall. “We’re going to be running the night shift tonight and hopefully make some good headway this evening.”
The Red Cross has a shelter ready to open if displaced residents need a place to sleep, said Beedle. She urged those who have lost property to file damage reports with the emergency operations center (509-933-8305) as soon as they can.
“Our message right now is we want those people to contact us when they can, as soon as possible, so we can get that ball rolling,” she said.
There have been no reports of injuries or deaths related to the Snag Canyon fire, said Beedle.