Washington fires burn rangeland, singe orchards

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

Fires in Washington's Okanogan County have destroyed thousands of acres of rangeland, left ranches and orchards without power and killed livestock.

TWISP, Wash. — Forage on thousands of acres of rangeland is gone, cattle are dead and orchards have been singed by the Carlton Complex Fire that’s claimed an estimated 80 to 150 homes.

Some half dozen cattle ranchers with large rangeland grazing allotments from the U.S. Forest Service appear hardest hit since they won’t be able to graze those lands for a couple of years. They’ve also lost an undetermined number of cattle.

There’s some loss of apple, pear and cherry orchards, but mostly just their edges were singed as fire sought the path of least resistance and skirted green trees to find dry grass.

But the biggest worry for orchardists and ranchers is loss of electrical power, perhaps for weeks, which means irrigation water can’t be pumped. Without water tree fruit can die and alfalfa fields and pastures will dry up.

Orchardists and ranchers were using small, gasoline generators to keep refrigerators and freezers running but some were scrambling to find larger generators to power irrigation pumps.

It may be a month or more before power is restored to some areas, said Dan Boettger, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for Okanogan County Public Utility District.

Three transmission lines and hundreds of miles of power distribution lines are down, he said.

“Our system has basically evaporated,” he said. “We have areas where the poles, wires and everything is gone. No trace of metal or anything.”

Crews hoped to restore power to Pateros by the end of this week, he said, to restore power to a cherry packing line at Apple House.

Four fires that make up the complex were ignited by lightning July 14. High temperatures and wind swept the fire down to Pateros and Brewster on July 17 burning many homes.

The fire was at 243,000 acres and is 2 percent contained, and 1,632 personnel were fighting it as of the morning of July 21. Weather was cooperating. The situation looked relatively good with fires up side drainages off the main stem of the Methow and not threatening Twisp or Winthrop, said Alyse Cadez, a fire spokeswoman in Winthrop.

Gov. Jay Inslee visited Pateros and Brewster on Sunday.


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