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35 homes burn in wildfire

A small north-central Washington town and a nearby hospital have been evacuated ahead of a wind-whipped wildfire that has already burned at least 35 homes, authorities said.

Okanogan County Sheriff Frank Rogers said late Thursday he's heard of no injuries from the Carlton Complex of wildfires.

The sheriff issued his highest evacuation notice Thursday for Pateros, a town of about 650 people along the Columbia River. Residents drove south to Chelan. A hospital in nearby Brewster was evacuated as a precaution, with the patients sent to Omak.

"The whole town was evacuated," Rogers said in a telephone interview as he drove the eight-mile stretch between Brewster and Pateros. "It was a chaotic mess but we got everybody on the highway."

"There's nobody in Pateros" except a few "stragglers" who stayed, he said, adding the fire was burning in the town, although the small business district was believed intact.

Rogers said perhaps 15-20 homes have burned in Pateros and another 20 homes in the Twisp-Winthrop area. He had no estimate of how many homes have burned in the entire county of about 40,000 people.

The situation in Brewster, population about 2,400, was "pretty good," Rogers said. "It looks like Brewster's OK."

A law enforcement officer in the county for 30 years, and sheriff for 12, Rogers said this fire is the worst he's seen. All of his officers are working and help is coming from nearby Chelan and Douglas counties.

"Hold on," he said as he drove, "I've gotta go through a little bit of fire."

He said the fire had jumped U.S. Highway 97 between Brewster and Pateros and was burning along the Columbia. Sections of several highways were closed in the county.

Early Friday, the Okanogan County Sheriff's dispatch office said the roughly 300 residents of the Chiliwist Valley, about 15 miles north of Pateros, evacuated late Thursday night.

Two major power lines, one feeding Pateros and one feeding Winthrop and Twisp, have burned, causing a widespread power outage in the county, said Scott Miller, the county's emergency manager.

The Carlton Complex of fires has burned across at least 28 square miles of the scenic Methow Valley. Fire spokesmen were not able to provide updated acreage Thursday night. There is zero containment on the complex, one of two major wildfires burning in central Washington.

About 100 miles to the south, the Chiwaukum Creek Fire chased people from nearly 900 homes as it burned near the Bavarian-themed village of Leavenworth.

That fire sent a light dusting of ash over Leavenworth, where the German-style motif provides a backdrop to Oktoberfest and a Christmas tree lighting festival.

The fire's smoke plume rose 25,000 feet into the air. The blaze closed 15 miles of U.S. Highway 2 in the area.

"There's a huge cloud of smoke above us," Don Hurst, a retired firefighter who lives just outside of Leavenworth, said Thursday morning. "The winds started to pick up a little. It's just like snowfall here with the ash coming down. It's fine ash. We're getting all this ash fall."

Residents of 860 homes have been told they should leave immediately, fire officials said. Another 800 homes were less seriously threatened.

Authorities said Thursday that the Chiwaukum Creek Fire has grown to more than 10 square miles. It was first detected Tuesday.

The Canadian Press

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