2014 and 2015 brought the worst wildfire seasons Okanogan County residents and businesses have seen for generations. Massive wildfires tore through communities, consuming houses, barns, roads, livestock, grazing land—and in many cases people’s livelihoods.
The 256,108 acre Carlton Complex Fire started on July 14, by lightning from a weather system that moved through the Methow Valley. The Carlton Complex started as four fires: the Stokes Fire, the Gold Hikes Fire, the French Creek Fire and the Cougar Flat fire which grew into one larger fire. The fire spread dramatically on July 17 as hot weather and windy conditions pushed the fire over the ridge tops and into the towns of Pateros and Malott burning 322 homes, 149 other structures and destroying critical infrastructure, crops and cattle. President Obama issued a state of emergency in Washington and authorized the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to aid state officials in disaster relief. The Carlton Complex was the largest single wildfire event in the state’s history.
2015 gave no relief. Beginning in one ten day period following a rash of lightning strikes in mid-August of 2015, the 133,713 acre Okanogan Complex, including the Lime Belt and Tunk Block fires along the Okanogan River, and the 88,985 acre Chelan Complex burned even more of Okanogan County. At nearly the same time, the massive human-caused North Star Fire on the Colville Indian Reservation was burning another 218,138 acres. The tragic Twisp River fire claimed the lives of three young firemen. Combined, these fires devastated more than a one million-acre swath of north central Washington, including grazing land, homes, farms and infrastructure. The 2015 fire season in the Pacific Northwest was the most severe in modern history.
The record back-to-back wildfire seasons destroyed hundreds of homes and consumed nearly all the grazing land in Okanogan County. Of the more than 400 homes destroyed in the fires, over two-thirds were considered a primary home. Only forty percent were completely covered by insurance. Unfortunately, FEMA repeatedly denied individual aid following both wildfire seasons. Devastating almost a million acres of land, leveling homes and outbuildings, destroying vehicles, machinery, pets and livestock, wildlife and crops, the effects of the disasters will be felt for generations.
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The North Central Washington Economic Development District (NCWEDD) is a federally designated economic development district for the NCW region covering Okanogan, Douglas, and Chelan counties and the Colville Confederate Tribes.