By Roger Harnack
PATEROS - Alta Lake-area residents are planning for the worst, but hoping for the best, as the Goat Fire continues its march toward their remote community.
Their concern over the ever-growing fire has merit, despite a cliff standing between them and the flames.
During a meeting Wednesday evening, Sept. 19, law enforcement and fire officials told residents the fire is definitely coming.
”We’ve been throwing everything we can at it,” Deputy Incident Commander Carl West told the 117 area residents who attended the meeting at Alta Lake State Park. “We know it’s inevitable - it’s going to come down here.”
Area residents can expect a Level 3 evacuation notice issued within the next 24 hours, officials said.
”That’s when a deputy knocks on your door and says, ‘go,’“ Okanogan County Sheriff’s Office Emergency Manager Scott Miller told those at the meeting. “Hopefully, we will never get to Level 3.”
But the prospects of containing the fire before it reaches the Alta Lake area are slim. Fire officials are mobilizing units to battle the blaze in the steep, rocky, shrub-steppe terrain.
The blaze had grown to about 1,100 by noon Thursday.
U.S. Forest Service firefighters have already established a “satellite” camp in the state park. Several helicopter and bulldozer crews are also assigned to protect areas of Goat Mountain and the Alta Lake community.
The main fire camp is on Twisp-Carlton Road, just outside Twisp. There, more than 500 firefighters have been stationed to take on the Okanogan Fire Complex, now consisting of four fires.
In addition to the Goat Fire, Forest Service and other personnel are battling flames on Leecher and Hunter mountains, and in the Gold Creek basin.
Those fires reportedly started Sept. 8 during a lightning storm, and are among more than 88 believed to have been ignited in North-Central Washington that night.
Many of those fires are still burning and have charred areas around Grand Coulee, Coulee City, Wenatchee, Cashmere, Chelan and the town of Liberty.
U.S. Highway 97, the main route through some of those communities, was closed temporarily to traffic at U.S. Highway 2 between Cashmere and Leavenworth due to fires. It was reopened late this afternoon, Sept. 20.
The Goat Fire, located on Goat Mountain just west of Pateros, is believed to be “human-caused,” West previously said. It remains under investigation.
But Alta Lake residents are more concerned about the coming firestorm than how it began.
And so is the city of Pateros, where plans are being made to open a shelter at Pateros Community Church if a Level 3 evacuation is ordered.
”If there is a Level 3 (notice), we will knock on your door,” Miller said.
The shelter could open within 15 minutes of the notice being issued, officials said, noting there are cots, pillows and blankets available for up to 200 people. There will also be food and other staples.
Currently, all of the Alta Lake area is under Level 1 or 2 evacuation notices.
Miller said Level 1 is a general notice of a fire in the area and Level 2 is a notice to prepare for evacuation.
”We don’t want you to scramble at the last minute,” he said of the areas where a Level 2 warning has already been issued.
Some warnings also have been issued in Chelan County in the Antoine Creek area near the fire’s southern expansion.
Although Miller suggested residents plan and prepare to leave should the firefight come to their doorstep, he said officials would not make them.
”If you want to stay at your house, you have the legal right,” he said.
West said residents, whether they stay or leave, could help firefighters by turning on sprinklers and keeping their homes, lawns and surrounding wildland interface damp.
”The best thing you can do is get sprinkling,” he said. “Get everything damp and turn it over to us.”