Homes burn north of Omak

A home burns along Riverside Cutoff Road.

Photo by Roger Harnack
A home burns along Riverside Cutoff Road.

— An American flag withstood the initial onslaught of flames along Riverside Cutoff, but the nearby house burned to the ground about midnight.

It was one of several homes and outbuildings that burned overnight in the rural area north of town.

Officials did not yet have a count on the number of homes, outbuildings, fences or other structures that may have burned. And it likely will be days before they do.

Much of the damage was located between Epley Road and Riverside Cutoff, and extended west past Conconully Highway. But at 1:40 a.m., the fire was still moving, pushed by gusting winds.

In some areas, the heat from the fire appeared to be creating its own weather pattern, feeding the fire's advance even more.

Firecrews tried to save a number of homes, but the swirling winds and widespread line of fire, were too much to stop.

Some residents took to the fields themselves, bulldozing fire breaks where ever they could. The fire breaks would slow the fire's advance temporarily, until wind gusts picked up embers and reignited the flames' advance.

As of early Thursday morning, smoldering ruins could be seen everywhere along Johnson Creek Road, Riverside Cutoff, Concnoully Highway, and everywhere in between.

The fire had also advance along Conconully Highway toward the town of Conconully. But with heavy smoke, it was impossible to tell what had burned.

Power poles and lines littered the roadways; at one point, the top of a pole was suspended midair over Riverside Cutoff with power lines running down the center of the road just a few feet off the ground.

Most roads are closed and the area is under evacuation.

Flames raced across the flats throughout the afternoon and evening; as of 1:30 a.m., the fire was advancing toward Okanogan Valley Golf Club, with an eerie orange glow hanging over Pogue Mountain.

Power remains on in the golf course area, at least until the flames arrive.

Flams from the Tunk Block Fire also made another run at Riverside, which also is under evacuation. At midnight, the city appears to have weathered the firestorm.

Flames also advanced northward on Keystone Road and were heading toward the McLaughlin Canyon area, and possibly Tonasket.

Three spot fires were reported late Wednesday night on a hillside above Moccasin Flat HUD housing on Omak-Riverside Eastside Road, also known as county Road 280. Fire also was reported in the Green Lake area.

Another fire, apparently started by a car fire, was reported on Seven Lakes Road in the Lime Belt, near Conconully. Homes there survived flames sweeping through that area the past couple of days.

Evacuation alerts have been issued for the area from the Conconully Highway to U.S. Highway 97 and from the south Omak city limits north to Riverside Cutoff Road.

Other evacuation areas include Conconully, Riverside, Tunk Valley, Crumbacher, South Pine Creek, Spring Coulee, Buzzard Lake and Loup Loup Meadows.

Electricity has been off and on several times in Omak, which is buried under a blanket of thick smoke. Ash is falling on the city.

Okanogan County Public Utility District crews have been working non-stop to keep power on and to clear downed poles and electrical lines from roadways so fire crews can get through.

Meanwhile, a rapidly moving fire is burning west of Twisp in the Twisp River and Elbow Coulee areas. Both Twisp and Winthrop are under evacuation alerts, and structure protections is ongoing.

Many people have evacuated.

The city of Pateros, which had several homes burn in last year's Carlton Complex Fires, opened its Memorial Park to fire victims needing a place to camp for the night.

Meanwhile, back in north Omak, rural residents were elated to see firefighters trying to crush the fiery assault. But they also voiced frustration as power was turned off, which in turn shut off pumps and water desperately needed to keep the flames at bay.

North of Riverside, U.S. Highway 97 was closed north of Riverside all the way to Janis Bridge, just south of Tonasket.

At 1:30 a.m., flames from the Tunk Block Fire were cresting over the ridge above Chewiliken Valley. The fire's advance was visible from the U.S. Highway 97 area south of Tonasket.


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