Okanogan complex largest fire in Washington history

Okanogan Complex
Okanogan Complex. Fire perimeter as of Aug. 24, 2015.

The Okanogan complex fires have grown into the largest wildfire in Washington history at more than 256,567 acres, surpassing last year’s record-setting Carlton complex fires, which burned 256,108 acres.

The complex is now made up of what were five fires — the Twisp River fire, the Lime Belt fire, the Beaver Lake fire, the Blue Lake fire and the Tunk Block fire. The Lime Belt, Beaver Lake and Blue Lake fires have merged, according to the latest perimeter information from the U.S. Forest Service.

The two main branches of the fire — the merged Lime Belt fires and the Tunk Block fire — have burned more than 100,000 acres each.

The latest perimeter maps for the complex, taken from infrared data on Aug. 24, do not include the Twisp fire.

As of Aug. 24, more than 500 utility customers remain without power in Okanogan County, since the fire complex has destroyed more than 500 utility poles, according to the Okanogan County Public Utility District. It will take a week to restore power to some areas, while it could take a few weeks to restore power to others.

The Chelan complex fires (see below) also continued to rage south of the Okanogan complex. Infrared flights on Aug. 24 showed that the fire had grown 509 acres, expanding the fire perimeter to 87,830 acres.

Overall, the fire’s heat has dropped, particularly in the perimeter’s southern and eastern quadrants (highlighted blue area on the map). These quadrants were not scanned by IR flights on Aug. 24, since there has been little heat in those areas for several nights, according to flight information.

Chelan Complex fire perimeter as of Aug. 24, 2015.
Chelan complex fire perimeter as of Aug. 24, 2015.

A “fly-through” of the wildfires in north-central Washington

This video created by Kenji Kato using Google Earth, is a “fly-through” showing heat data collected by a satellite for the Chelan Complex of Fires, the Okanogan Complex of Fires, and other fires in north-central Washington state. The fly-through starts above the U.S., then flies in on the Pacific Northwest, then Central Washington, before closing in on the fire areas. The icons represent heat detected by a satellite as late as 3:30 a.m. PDT on August 20, 2015.

The icon color is based on fire activity with red representing heat detected in the last 0-12 hours (at the time data was updated). Orange represents activity in the previous 12 to 24 hours, and yellow is data 1 to 6 days before.


Okanogan Complex continues to expand, pushed by strong winds

(UPDATED at 4 p.m. PT, August 22, 2015)

Helicopters at Okanogan Complex of Fires
The arrival of the predicted dry cold front on August 21st, 2015 brought strong winds to the Okanogan Complex of fires and drove part of the blaze into an area near the Okanogan airport where a K-Max helicopter performed bucket work in an area near one of the Washington DNR UH-1 Hueys. Two of the DNR ships joined the K-Max and a civilian Blackhawk in the engagement. Photo by Tom Story.

The Okanogan Complex of fires was very active again on Friday as a cold front with strong winds passed through the area. According Incident Commander Todd Pechota (via Joe O’Sullivan) more than 227,000 acres have burned since the fires started on August 15. Additional evacuation orders were issued as the portion of the fire west of Okanogan spread south and approached and in at least one area crossed Highway 20, which is closed.

Map Okanogan Fire
Map of the Okanogan Complex of Fires. The fire perimeters shown were mapped at 9 p.m. on August 21. The red dots represent heat detected by a satellite during the 12 hours before 2:22 a.m. on Aug 22, 2015. (click to enlarge)
Washington UH-1 Huey Okanogan Complex of fires
A Washington DNR UH-1 Huey at the Okanogan airport takes off to engage the Okanogan Complex of Fires with some bucket work. Photo by Tom Story.

On Friday, President Obama signed an emergency declaration, ordering federal aid to assist in battling Washington state’s wildfires. The declaration allows FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts in Asotin, Chelan, Douglas, Ferry, Klickitat, Okanogan, Pend Orielle, Skamania, Spokane, Stevens, and Yakima counties. It also brings aid to the Colville, Spokane, Kalispel, and Yakima tribes.

For the first time, volunteers are being asked to fight the fires. More than 3,000 people have called and emailed in response to the state’s request for volunteer help with wildfires.

Dino sent us this link to four webcams in the Methow Valley between Twisp and Winthrop, Washington. He said they refresh once an hour. When I checked them Saturday afternoon they were shrouded in smoke.


(UPDATE at 9:47 a.m. PT, August 21, 2015)

Map Okanogan Fire
Map showing heat detected on the Okanogan Fire by a satellite at 3 a.m. PT August 21, 2015.

The Okanogan Complex of Fires consumed another 40,000 acres of vegetation on Thursday and now covers 124,083 acres, crossing the 100,000-acre threshold to obtain megafire status.


(Originally published at 2:58 p.m. PT, August 20, 2015)

map Okanogan Complex
The red line was the fire perimeter of the Okanogan Complex at 11 p.m. PT August 19, 2015. The white line is from about 24 hours before. (click to enlarge)

The Okanagan Complex, comprised of 11 fires, some of which grew together, quadrupled in size on Wednesday. It added 60,282 acres and as of 11 p.m. Wednesday night it was 83,441 acres and still growing rapidly (see map above). The Twisp River Fire, on which three firefighters were killed Wednesday, was added to the Complex this morning. A Type 1 incident management team will inbrief on Thursday.

The fire is near Omak, Riverside, and Okanagan in north-central Washington.

The area is under a Red Flag Warning through Friday (see map below) for continued warm temperatures, low humidities and strong north winds on Friday that could reach 50 mph — possibly downing power lines that could start new fires.

wildfireRed Flag Warnings, August 20, 2015