A speeding forest fire destroyed several houses near this Bavarian-theme tourist town Saturday after forcing workers to shut down the water plant.
“Smoke is hanging in heavy and there’s a lot of anxiety,” said city administrator Mike Cecka, although the fire had turned away from the town itself.
About 25 miles northeast, a fire that had burned across 86,000 acres of grass and pine trees was moving away from the lake resort town of Chelan, but a number of houses in the area remained evacuated.
Fires started mostly by lightning also burned out of control in Utah and Montana, where two people were killed when a tanker plane crashed, and elsewhere across the West. Conditions in Oregon had improved enough that more than 200 state firefighters were being sent to help Washington state crews.
The Rat Creek fire near Leavenworth broke out Friday in Icicle Creek canyon south of the town in north-central Washington. By Saturday it had destroyed 14 structures, mostly houses, the Chelan County sheriff’s office reported. The homes had been evacuated, and no one was injured.
Rob Harris lost his home and a rental house.
“We were getting ready to evacuate, but the thing was coming down the canyon so fast there was hardly any warning,” he said. “There was hardly any time to think, but I got out my most valuable tools and my snowmobiles.”
By late Saturday, the fire had spread to more than 5,000 acres. It was moving away from Leavenworth, but an evacuation alert remained in effect, telling residents to be ready to flee. It was among a series of about 34 fires, dubbed the Hatchery Complex, threatening the Leavenworth and Lake Wenatchee areas.
The Leavenworth water treatment plant, which serves about 3,000 area residents, was shut down Friday because plant employees were evacuated as the fire crept to within four to five miles of town, Cecka said. The plant was spared, but residents were told to continue boiling drinking water.
Near Chelan, about 100 miles east of Seattle, the Tyee Creek fire was moving quickly toward the west side of Lake Chelan, toward an area with only a few houses. The town of Chelan is on the southeast corner of the lake.
Residents of two housing developments west of Chelan were kept away from home for a second day Saturday, but residents of another area were allowed to return.
In western Montana, crews fighting two major range and forest fires made some gains Saturday but high winds threatened to fan the flames. Firefighters dug a line along one-third of the 6,500-acre Henry Peak fire, said fire information officer Jack Kendley.
Dozens of smaller fires in Montana included the 80-acre Squaw Peak fire, which began Friday when the firefighting plane crashed.
Elsewhere on Saturday:
* Oregon fire crews that had been slowed by rugged terrain made progress on that state’s last big blaze. The Mendenhall Fire more than doubled in size to 7,500 acres during the morning, said Roberta Hilbruner of the Northwest Interagency Coordination Center in Portland.
* The Elevator Canyon fire sprawling across the Idaho-Utah border had grown to more than 20,000 acres but crews kept it from threatening the small towns of Portage, Utah, and Samaria, Ida.
* In Wyoming, the Dutch Joe Fire, in heavy timber in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, had grown to 200 acres and forest officials closed more than 30 square miles of the Big Sandy area to recreational use.