Winds Setback Firefighters Battling Massive Washington Blaze

Firefighters doing battle with the massive Carlton Complex fires in north-central Washington are having to to deal with wind-driven sparks that can travel as far as a half-a-mile, as one town small town was put on evacuation notice late Monday.

The fire was still only 2 percent contained, and a section of Highway 20 was reclosed due to renewed fire activity, fire officials said.

Some 150 structures have been reported destroyed, and hundreds of homes have been evacuated in the fire, which has grown to 237,890 acres and is considered the largest ongoing fire in the U.S.

The small town of Carlton around 4 p.m. was placed on a Level 3 evacuation status, which has sheriff’s deputies going door-to-door offering residents a choice of staying or leaving – meaning if residents leave they can’t return until an all-clear signal is given, and if they stay they cannot leave if the change their minds.

“This just happened,” said Alyse Cadez, a fire information officer for the National Park Service. “The fire at Libby Creek crossed and went toward the town.”

Firefighters are dealing with variable winds and gusts and dry temperatures.

“It’s very dynamic and changing,” Cadez said, adding that power interruptions were occurring to a wide-swath of fire affected areas. “There’s been no power in this whole area for a least a week now.”

Winds have been milder in recent days, but they still pick up into afternoon and evening, and localized gusts to 20 mph were being experienced on Monday, according to Cadez.

Fire officials say that due to afternoon wind gusts sparks are capable of traveling up to a half-a-mile.

“There’s a very high chance of them igniting something,” Cadez said.

The Carlton Complex fires began on July 14 and were reportedly ignited by lighting from a weather system. The wildfires consist of four official fires: Stokes Fire, Gold Hikes Fire, French Creek Fire and the Cougar Flat.

Despite National Weather Service forecasts for cooler, and even wetter weather, fire officials continue to say that getting the blaze under control will be challenging.

“The extreme fire behavior and hot weather conditions will continue to challenge firefighting efforts,” an official fire report states. “Structure Protection crews are working throughout the fire areas patrolling and monitoring around structures. Firefighters are working with property owners to help reduce vegetation and remove debris.”

More than 1,600 personnel are battling the blaze, which is being fueled by dry timber and grass.