Five fires in Chelan, Washington area, evacuations ordered

(UPDATED at 8:15 a.m. PT, August 19, 2015)

“This is not an emergency for us. This is what we do”.
(Deputy Incident Commander Rob Allen during a Wednesday morning briefing to firefighters, emphasizing that they should not feel pressure to take unnecessary chances performing what is to them routine work for which they have spent years accumulating skills and experience.)

The above quote can be heard in the brief video below.

All of the fires comprising the Chelan Complex of Fires grew on Tuesday, adding about 6,000 acres to what became a total of 69,445 acres burned. The Black Canyon and McFarland Fires burned together (see map below) while expanding on almost all the length of their perimeters. The First Creek and Antoine Fires both spread on their northwest sides.

map Chelan wildfires
The red lines indicate the perimeters of the Chelan area fires mapped at 11 p.m. PT August 18, 2015. The white lines are from about 24 hours before. (click to enlarge)

Evacuations are still in place for approximately 2,900 residents in the greater Chelan area.


(UPDATED at 3:04 p.m. PT, August 18, 2015)

Map Chelan area fires
Map of Chelan area fires, 9 p.m. PT, August 17, 2015. The red line is the most current. The white line is from 1-2 days before.

Monday night the assessors office confirmed that 35 residences and 21 outbuildings have been destroyed in the fire near Chelan, Washington. The surveys are not complete and those numbers could be revised upward in the next few days.

The Sheriff’s office is increasing the patrols in evacuated areas, hoping to stop the looting has been reported in the temporarily vacant homes.

The fires that are now grouped and called the Chelan Complex, have burned 63,425 acres. The Complex includes:

  • Black Canyon
  • McFarland Creek
  • First Creek
  • Wolverine
  • Reach
  • Cagle
  • Antoine

Day and night shifts of firefighters are working to construct fireline, mopup, and protect structures. A night shift of seven state-mobilized strike teams of five engines each are assisting with firefighting activities. Six helicopters are dropping water, shuttling crews, and conducting reconnaissance missions. Two fixed wing aircraft are conducting water and retardant drops as needed.

Chelan fires sat photo August 18, 2015
Satellite photo of the Chelan area fires. The red dots represent heat detected by the satellite. The dots on the right (east) are the McFarland, Black Canyon, and Antoine Fires. The dots on the left side (west) are on the Wolverine Fire. Data acquired the afternoon of August 18, 2015.

The Reach Fire was active Monday on the west side, where it burned into Union Valley towards Cooper Ridge. Firefighters constructed several miles of fireline on the east and south flanks.

The Black Canyon and McFarland Creek Fires are actively burning in timber, brush, and short grass approximately 8 miles west of Pateros, in Okanogan County. The fire behavior is extreme with crowning, flanking and spotting.

The First Creek Fire also has been very active, crowning and spotting, and continues to threaten residences along South Lake Shore Road, Lake Chelan State Park, First Creek Rd, and SR 971.

The Wolverine Fire has not spread significantly in recent days.

The video below features Incident Commander Chris Schulte on August 18 discussing the fires in the Chelan area. The first 4:03 is silent and black.

In the next video a representative from the Sheriffs office discusses the number of structures burned, as well as the looting and how they hope to reduce it. It was uploaded to YouTube on August 18.


(UPDATED at 10:10 a.m. PT, August 17, 2015)

In the video above, which was recorded at 4 p.m. Sunday, Deputy Incident Commander Rob Allen briefs members of the community about the status of the fires surrounding Chelan, Washington. Electrical power was out and a generator was supplying minimal lighting during the meeting.

First Creek Fire
Undated photo taken at the First Creek Fire. InciWeb.

The fires near Chelan were most active on the southwest sides Sunday. With a limited number of firefighting resources, the Incident Management Team’s strategy is to concentrate their fire suppression and containment efforts around the city of Chelan and then work their way north to the Black Canyon Fire. Mr. Allen said he “feels pretty good” about the portion of the fire on the east side of the river.

Military hand crews will be assisting on the fireline on Monday.

wildfire Chelan Complex 10 pm PT Aug 16, 2015
Map showing the perimeters of the Wolverine Fire and the Chelan Complex of fires, at 10 p.m. PT August 16, 2015. (click to enlarge)

A more detailed map can be viewed HERE.

An incident management team has been ordered for the Reach Fire. Southwest Area Type 1 IMT #1 with Incident Commander Clay Templin is expected to inbrief at 7 p.m. on August 19.

On Sunday Chelan County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Kent Sisson confirmed that at least 21 residences have been destroyed, but only a portion of the fire area has been surveyed for structure damage. He can be seen in the video below.


(UPDATED at 8:17 p.m. PDT, August 16, 2015)

Reach fires 8-16-2015

Judging from the above satellite photo taken Sunday afternoon, some of the fires in the Chelan, Washington area were active on the southwest sides, and were being fanned by a northeast wind, which left a great deal of smoke in the area. The red dots indicate heat detected by the satellite.


(UPDATED at 11:28 a.m. PDT, August 16, 2015)

Below is an update on the fires in the Chelan, Washington area, released Sunday morning by the Incident Management Team:

Reach Fire (including Cagle and Antoine fires) is burning in brush, short grass, and timber near Chelan. Burnouts and dozer lines completed at the southern flank held the fire, protecting many homes and areas along the Columbia River. Last night firefighters worked to protect structures from fire activity in Union Valley and Washington Creek. Today firefighters will be working to establish anchor points and provide point and zone protection for structures and infrastructure, as well as assessing opportunities for perimeter control on the north and south flanks of the fire.

First Creek is actively spreading west, burning in brush and timber, 8 miles northwest of Chelan. The fire continues to threaten residences along South Lake Shore Road, as well as Lake Chelan State Park, First Creek Rd., and SR 971. Firefighters are burning out areas at the south end of the fire by hand firing and will be working to provide structure protection from Twentyfive Mile Creek to Navarre Coulee, as well as assessing opportunities to control the fire perimeter at the north and south. The fire is currently south of the Cove area, has not crossed First Creek or Navarre Coulee, and has not reached Lake Chelan State Park.

Black Canyon and Squaw Creek fires are actively burning in timber, brush, and short grass approximately 8 miles west of Pateros, in Okanogan County. Firefighters will be using direct and indirect tactics to limit fire growth and will be assessing needs for point protection, road and trail closures, and evacuations.”


InciWeb photo
First Creek Fire, undated InciWeb photo.

On Saturday, evacuations in the Chelan, Washington area were still in a state of flux, with some being downgraded and other new areas being declared Level 3, which means leave immediately.

Map of the Reach fire Chelan, Washington
Map of the Reach and other fires near Chelan, Washington. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite at 2:35 a.m. Aug 16, 2015. (click to enlarge)

For reporting purposes, the Reach, First Creek, and Black Canyon Fires are all being treated separately. The Reach (which also includes the Cagle and Antoine Fires) is listed at 55,454 acres, the Black Canyon at 3,000, and the First Creek at 1,726 acres. The official situation report does not include any burned structures for the three fires, probably because accurate data is not yet available.

The weather will not be extreme on Sunday, which could allow firefighters to make some progress on containing the fire. The forecast for the fire area is for 80 degrees, 22 percent RH, mostly sunny, and 6 mph winds from the north, switching to the south in the afternoon, and by sunset changing again back to coming out of the north.

In the video above Chelan County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant Kent Sisson confirmed on Saturday, August 15th at 11:30 a.m. that both residential and commercial structures, including the Chelan Lumber Company, were destroyed by the wind-driven Chelan area wildfires. He said in one area approximately 20 to 25 structures burned. Sergeant Sisson also provides current in depth coverage of the evacuations at that time.

In the next video, below, a DC-10 air tanker drops retardant on the fire near Chelan.

Below, in a video uploaded by the Incident Management Team, a warehouse burns during the strong wind.


(UPDATED at 7:22 p.m. PT, August 15, 2015)

Map-Reach Fire 1240 pm PT Aug 15, 2015
Map showing heat detected on the Reach Fire by a satellite at 12:40 p.m. PT Aug 15, 2015. The red dots were at 12:40; the others were earlier.
Reach Fire 8 pm PT Aug 14
Reach Fire at about 8 p.m. PT, August 14, 2015 produced by the Incident Management Team on April 15.

Click here to download a higher resolution version of the above map, which shows the Reach, Cagle, and Antoine Fires after they merged.

In the video above, Rob Allen, the Deputy Incident Commander for the Wolverine Fire which is 30 air miles up Lake Chelan from the city by the same name, describes how his fire sent firefighting resources from their winding-down incident to assist with the initial attack of the five new fires near the city. His incident management team was eventually assigned the responsibility to manage the fires near Chelan.

The video was recorded Friday, August 15. The next day he was interviewed again and provided more details, and also described the big picture of how there is a very serious shortage of firefighting resources nationally, as 85 large uncontained fires burn in the western United States.


(UPDATED at 11:23 a.m. PT, August 15, 2015)

The Incident Management Team assigned to the Wolverine Fire at the north end of Lake Chelan issued this update Saturday morning on the fires near the city of Chelan, Washington:


“Early Friday morning lightning started numerous fires in the vicinity of Chelan. Crews and helicopters from the Wolverine Fire assisted local agencies battling five of the fires. By 3:00 pm, 20-30 mph steady winds with gusts to 45 mph began pushing the Reach, First Creek, Antoine, and Black Canyon Fires generally to the northwest. These fires grew quickly throughout the day threatening many structures. Firefighters assisted by heavy helicopters were able to slow the spread of the Cagle Fire. Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 2 assumed command of the Reach, First Creek, Antoine, and Cagle Fires at 6:00 am this morning.

The Reach Fire started as five small lightning fires that grew together on Chelan Butte and raced northwest along the southern edge of Chelan. Then with a strong wind change in the afternoon, the fire hooked east into South Chelan and across the Columbia River into Douglas County. The First Creek Fire is located 10 miles northwest of Chelan in First Creek drainage near Lake Chelan State Park. The Antoine Fire started near Washington Butte nine miles north of Chelan, impacting many ranches in that area. The Cagle Fire is on Deer Mountain two miles north of Chelan. Firefighters will focus on protecting structures in the vicinity of these fires today, gather information, and develop priorities and strategies for controlling them.”


(UPDATED at 10:38 a.m. PT, August 15, 2015)

DC-10 drops on Chelan Fire
DC-10 drops on Chelan Fire. Photo by Mike Bonnicksen.

Mandatory evacuations are still in effect for some areas near the fires around Chelan, Washington. The Chelan County Emergency Management Facebook page has the current status.

Very strong winds on Friday were the primary driver of the fire, blowing at 20 to 26 mph out of the west with gusts of 39 to 44 mph. The high temperature Friday at the Douglas weather station 17 miles south of Chelan was 88 degrees with a relative humidity of 19 percent. Conditions will be more in favor of the firefighters on Saturday with a forecast for the fire area of 76 degrees, 22 percent RH, and west winds at 9 mph.

The power company reports that about 9,000 people do not have electrical service as a result of the fires.

The Incident Management Team working on the Wolverine Fire at the north end of Lake Chelan, PNW Team #2 with Incident Commander Schulte, is assisting with the fires near the city of Chelan. They are saying 2,000 acres have burned, but it is not clear which of the fires are included in that number.

(We will update this article throughout the day on Saturday as more information develops.)

Map of fires near Chelan, Wash
Map of fires near Chelan, Wash., 2:59 a.m. PT Aug 15, 2015.


(Originally published at 6:36 p.m. PT, August 14, 2015)

DC-10 Chelan, Washington
DC-10 drops on Chelan, Washington, August 14, 2015. Screen grab from the video below.

Five new fires are burning near Chelan, Washington. Two of them are within two miles of the city and have caused immediate evacuations, including the Chelan Walmart.

The Chelan County Emergency Management Department on Facebook and Twitter, @ChelanCountyEM, has up to date details about the evacuations.

Several roads and highways were closed Friday afternoon, including US 97A, US 97, and SR 971, and the power was out in Chelan.

Wildfires in Chelan, WA
Wildfires in the Chelan, WA area at 1:20 p.m. PT, Aug 14, 2015.

DC-10 drops on Chelan, Washington
DC-10 drops on Chelan, Washington. Check out the video below to see what the effect was on the photographer.

Chelan junkyard fire

Tanker 131 drops on Chelan WA
T-131, a C-130Q, drops on a fire near Chelan, Wash. August 14, 2015.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.